FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga – The Carolina Panthers left a bad taste in Atlanta Falcons defense's mouth following their week seven matchup.
With Christian Mccafrey sidelined, the Panthers still ran the ball 47 times amassing 203 yards on the ground, including 66 from quarterback Sam Darnold. Darnold 's yards came at crucial times, scrambling for big chunks of yards when plays broke down
One of his most impactful came in the fourth quarter with the Panthers leading 12-10.
It was third and nine and with no receivers open, Darnold took off, scrambling for eleven yards, getting the first down. The Panthers scored on that drive and the Falcons never recovered, losing 19-13. Linebacker Steven Means says that's a play that coaches have harped on all week.
"That was a big play in that game," Means admitted. "They played a good game, but one that we felt like we should have and needed to come away with. For that big play to happen like that in a crucial moment, that's a critical error.
"You have some technique errors where you're out your gap or something, but to have a critical error, that's something that can hurt the whole defense and we can't let that happen again."
The play is one that has stuck with Means and the defense since week seven, and now they will have a chance to right their wrong on Sunday, although Darnold is on the injured reserve.
"There's not too many second chances for a lot of people, for a lot of teams," Means said. "So to be able to go back and right your mistakes and make those wrongs better; it's definitely an advantage."
Still, this game means more than just getting back for a mistake that happened earlier in the year.
The Falcons are still in the playoff hunt. The Panthers and the Falcons both sit at 5-7, but the Panthers are in the tenth spot, because of their head to head advantage. A loss on Sunday would be a monumental blow to the Falcons' playoff chances and the team knows it.
In fact, they are embracing the fact that Sunday is a must win game.
"It is a big week,'' safety Duron Harmon said. "Anybody who knows football and knows the position that we're in, the position that the Panthers are in, knows the amount the influence this game will have on both teams.
"It's December. We all play to try to get the opportunity to go to the playoffs, playing into January and this game is gonna have big implications on that. We know that. Our focus, our intention, has to dial up a notch."
Often, players and coaches will shy away from making statements about the importance of a game, in fear of putting pressure on players or overthinking a matchup. For Harmon, however, he thinks embracing the importance of Sunday's matchup will make the team play better.
"You should raise your level of intensity and focus," Harmon said. "Just know that there's a lot riding on this game. It's no time for you know, 'My bad's' or 'My faults.' Let's get the job done at all costs."
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