The Falcons snapped a three-game losing skid with a 20-16 home victory over the 49ers. The win helped Atlanta improve to 2-2 at the Georgia Dome and eased the tension, at least temporarily, between coach Bobby Petrino and some of his veteran players that had arisen in recent weeks. ... Carolina went into Tennessee and not only lost its first road game all season, but also fell out of first place in the NFC South. The 20-7 defeat dropped the Panthers one game behind Tampa Bay in the win column and into a tie for second place with the surging Saints.
Aside from the immediate goal of winning their first road and divisional game of the year, the Falcons actually have more on the line. Unlikely though it may seem, they still have an outside shot to contend in the NFC South if they can string some wins together. A win over Carolina would put Atlanta at 3-6 with three of their next four games at home, and their only road game in that stretch is against the winless Rams. For Carolina, the importance of this game is clear. First, the Panthers need to prove they can win at home after losing their first three at Bank of America Stadium this year, and, secondly, they can jump back into a tie for the NFC South lead with a victory.
Falcons defensive end John Abraham vs. Panthers left tackle Travelle Wharton. Abraham is quietly having a standout season for the Falcons. He joined Atlanta prior to the 2006 season amid much hype because of his successful six-year run with the Jets. Injuries curtailed his production last season, however, and he appeared in just eight games, collecting four sacks. This year he has already surpassed that total with six sacks. He has also disrupted opposing offenses in other ways with three passes defensed and three forced fumbles. With Carolina's quarterback situation up in the air (David Carr and Vinny Testaverde are both nursing injuries), Abraham's ability to bring pressure becomes even more critical. The onus is on Wharton to prevent him from doing so. The fourth-year left tackle has started every game this season after missing all but one last year with a knee injury. If Carr or Testaverde play, they will likely be playing at less than full strength, meaning Wharton must protect their blindside to keep them upright and in the game. If rookie Matt Moore gets the start, Wharton's role becomes even more vital as he must allow the youngster time to feel his way in the pocket without worrying about constant pressure.