By Rockin Reese
The Carolina Panthers kicked off their 2023-24 NFL season on the road, as they started at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. However, a strong beginning to their game turned into a dismal end, as they were defeated by the Atlanta Falcons in a NFC South showdown.
Panthers Week 1
Things got off to a great start for the Panthers, as (defensive lineman) Derrick Brown batted a pass from (Falcons quarterback) Desmond Ridder, causing to Ridder to catch the ball for a 6-yard loss. Two plays later, the Falcons were forced to punt, after Ridder recovered his own fumble, thanks to being sacked by (Panthers linebacker) Brian Burns.
The Panthers tried to keep their momentum going, as their offense took to the field for the first time. Led by (quarterback & overall #1 draft pick) Bryce Young, the Panthers got into the red zone (despite Young having to recover his own fumble early in the drive), thanks to running backs Miles Sanders (who was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles) & Chuba Hubbard, as well as wide receivers Terrace Marshall & Laviska Shenault.
However, their drive would stall at Atlanta’s 11-yard line. When Shenault failed to pick up 1 yard to earn a first down, they decided to go for a play on 4th down, instead of trying for a field goal by (kicker) Eddy Pineiro. That decision would prove to be costly, as Hubbard also failed to pick up that 1 yard & the Panthers turned the ball over on downs.
After the Falcons were forced to punt, the Panthers would have a disastrous possession. (Wide receiver) Adam Thielen was called for offensive pass interference, then the Panthers committed a delay of game penalty. After a Sanders run, Young threw his first interception. Trying to complete a pass to (tight end) Hayden Hurst, Young didn’t see (Falcons safety) Jessie Bates spying, which led to an easy pick near the end of the 1st quarter.
The Falcons ended the first quarter with a couple of plays from (running back) Bijan Robinson. On the first play of the 2nd quarter, the Falcons scored when Ridder completed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Robinson. Younghoe Koo made the extra point.
After both teams traded punts, the Panthers tied the game after a 7-minute drive. With Young’s passing and Sanders & Hubbard running, they ended the drive with Young completing a 4-yard touchdown pass to Hurst, followed by Pineiro making an extra point. Both teams traded punts to end the first half in a 7-7 tie.
In the 3rd quarter, Pineiro gave the Panthers their only lead, with a 43-yard field goal. After the Falcons punted, Young threw his 2nd interception to Bates, leading Koo to tie the game with a 49-yard field goal. On the next Panthers possession, they got to midfield, but Sanders fumbled the ball & it was recovered by (Falcons linebacker) Lorenzo Carter.
The next drive for the Falcons started near the end of the 3rd quarter & continued into the 4th quarter. It seemed like (running back) Tyler Allgeier broke the tie on a 3-yard touchdown run, but they had to review the play to make sure he had the ball break the plane of the end zone, before he stepped out of bounds. The replay determined it was a good touchdown, so the Falcons regained the lead & Koo made his 2nd extra point of the game.
After trading punts, the Falcons expanded their lead. Runs from Allgeier set up Ridder to complete passes to (wide receivers) Mack Hollins & Kyle Pitts. On Carolina’s 7-yard line, Allegier ran for 4 yards on 1st down, then scored the touchdown on the very next running play. Koo would make his 3rd extra point to give the Falcons a 14-point lead. With less than 5 minutes left to go in regulation, the Panthers tried to make something happen quickly, but they were forced to punt.
After forcing the Falcons to punt, the Panthers drove all the way to Atlanta’s 29-yard line. However, during a 2nd down incompletion from Young, an offensive pass interference call against (wide receiver) Ihmir Smith-Marsette sealed their fate. They would turn the ball over on downs and the Falcons would kneel down for a 24-10 victory.
Young completed 20 out of 38 passes for 146 yards, with 1 touchdown & 2 interceptions. Sanders had 18 carries for 72 yards, while Hubbard had 9 carries for 60 yards. Hurst had 5 catches for 41 yards & a touchdown. The Panthers defense sacked Ridder 4 times…Burns had 1 1/2, (linebacker) Frankie Luvu & (defensive lineman) Derrick Brown each had 1, and (defensive lineman) Shy Tuttle had 1/2.
Next Monday night, the Panthers will have their home opener at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. Visiting them will be another NFC South team, the New Orleans Saints (who defeated the Tennessee Titans, 16-15). As the only NFC South team who lost (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were also victorious against the Minnesota Vikings), the Panthers can’t afford to start the season with a 0-2 record, especially against 2 division opponents.