Explosive Plays Set the Tone:The Falcons offense, which was shut out for the first time in over a decade, composed just three plays of more than 25 yards. Conversely, the Panthers racked up a bevy of explosive plays—including 74- and 46-yard touchdown catches by Ted Ginn, Jr.
Running back Jonathan Stewart had a big afternoon, too, highlighted by an early score and a 44-yard sprint on the third play from scrimmage.
"Carolina is the best the league has to offer right now, but our performance was totally unacceptable," Quinn said. "Too many explosive plays defensively that put us way behind, and then (we) couldn't convert on the opportunities offensively like we're capable of. Got way behind, and that part was extremely disappointing."
Line of Scrimmage Battle Lost: The Falcons' offensive and defensive lines were outplayed throughout Sunday's matchup, and the final score reflected this issue. Matt Ryan was chased often and didn't get much time to throw the ball downfield; the run blocking wasn't as good as it's been through most of the season; and the DL, as a whole, gave a star quarterback too much space to execute.
"We just knew we had to come out and it was going to be on us," said Carolina DT Kawann Short, who recovered a fumble and had two sacks. "We started that from pregame with the offensive line and we made a pact right before the game that this game was going to be won up on the line, and that's what we tried to do today. And it showed in the middle and on the outside. Those guys pushed the pocket, closed the width and the defensive tackles made the plays."
Lack of Poise Hurt: The Falcons weren't nearly as disciplined as they wanted to be, and it showed in the form of six penalties, several of which were unnecessary infractions after the whistle. Quinn at one point gathered his team on the sideline to emphasize the importance of keeping one's poise, but according to the first-year head coach, the message did not get through immediately.
"We didn't keep our poise like we should in certain situation and penalties are always going to kill a drive—defensively, offensively. So, those are definitely things we need to clean up. We can't beat ourselves."
Turnovers Aplenty: The Falcons committed four turnovers—two interceptions, two fumbles lost—and were unable to create any on defense. With such a talented opponent on the other sideline, Atlanta needed to take care of the ball to stay competitive.