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NFC South Roundup: Week 10

Posted Nov 5, 2013

News from around the division, where the Panthers have won four in a row to move within a game of first place and the Saints remain confident despite another road loss

  • The Falcons got T Sam Baker back and better play up front in Week Nine but had more turnover problems in Carolina
  • The Panthers are starting to think about a playoff push after winning their fourth straight, all by two touchdowns or more
  • The Saints are still 6-2 despite a loss to the Jets but now must wonder about the status of RB Darren Sproles, who suffered a concussion Sunday
The Panthers got the only win by an NFC South team in Week Nine, stretching their winning streak to four games and moving them to 5-3 overall.  That's just one game back of the first-place Saints, who are still 6-2 despite a disappointing loss in the Meadowlands to the New York Jets.  Carolina is once again dealing with a rash of injuries on its interior offensive line, while the Falcons are trying to stem a recent rise in turnovers on offense.  With the second half of the 2013 NFL season underway, it's time to check in on the headlines from around the Buccaneers' division once again.


In Atlanta, Sam Baker returned to the lineup after missing three games due to injury, and that caused changes at two spots on the Falcons' beleaguered offensive line.  Baker took his left tackle spot back, which moved Lamar Holmes to the right side and Jeremy Trueblood to a reserve role.  Falcons' blogger Jay Adams says this is the front five he expects to see the rest of the way – with LG Justin Blalock, C Peter Konz and RG Garrett Reynolds in the middle – and Head Coach Mike Smith said the O-Line play was a bright spot in Sunday's loss at Carolina.  That front line helped RB Steven Jackson run for 57 yards on 13 carries, which was a big improvement over his first game back from injury last week (six yards on 11 carries) but not enough to help Atlanta avoid a second straight lopsided defeat.  The surging Panthers won 34-10, prompting the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter to give every Falcons unit an "F" in his report card for the game.  That's probably a bit too harsh, but it does appear that the Falcons' fates have been tied to the performances of star quarterback Matt Ryan, who has thrown seven interceptions in the last two games.  Considering the Falcons' sinking record and the huge rash of injuries that has taken away, among others, his top two receivers in Julio Jones and Roddy White, Ryan could be trying to put too much on his own shoulders, but he insists that's not the case.  "I think really all three of the interceptions were a case of being aggressive and trying to get the ball in spots, but I don't see it as pressing," said Ryan. "I think trying to give our guys opportunities. ... I've just got to be more efficient with what I'm doing and know that at the quarterback position when you're playing in tight games and you turn the ball over, it's going to be tough to overcome."  Rookie linebacker Paul Worrilow, an undrafted free agent from Delaware who has seen far more playing time than anyone predicted before the season, could also be considered a bright spot in Sunday's loss, as he racked up 19 tackles, tying the most by any Falcon in a single game in the last 20 years.  According to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, Worrilow was more concerned after the game about two tackles he didn't make, but he is still feeling more and more comfortable every game.  "I just keep looking at each game as a chance for me to grow," Worrilow said. "And I feel like I am. I'm confident going into every game. I'm seeing new things that I'm learning from. That's a big thing for me, as an undrafted guy. Since I'm getting time right now, I'm going to take full advantage and have my game grow." And, according to Panthers receiver Steve Smith, another Falcon rookie is going to be a bright spot for the team for some time: CB Desmond Trufant, Atlanta's first-round pick this past spring.  Smith complimented Trufant – and the whole Trufant football-playing family – after Sunday's game.


-- The Panthers' 34-10 win over Atlanta continued trends for both teams
It seems like it's nothing but bright spots these days in Carolina, where the Panthers have won four in a row and five of their last six.  Carolina has surpassed 30 points in each of its last four wins, all of which were decided by more than two touchdowns.  In fact, the 5-3 Panthers are on such a roll that, when Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with a shoulder injury on Monday night, ESPN.com's David Newton immediately speculated about the boost that mishap would have on the Panthers' playoff hopes.  Catcrave.com got into the act, speculating about the remainder of the schedule and predicting each week's outcome; the predictions led to an identical 5-3 mark in the second half and a wild card berth.  The Detroit News agrees, tabbing Carolina along with the hometown Lions to take the two wild card spots.  The winning streak has led Panthers.com Senior Writer Brian Strickland to determine that Carolina is a "mentally tough" team in 2013, pointing to a series of potentially disheartening events just before halftime.  The Panthers gave up a late touchdown, subsequently lost a pair of offensive guards to injury in the next few snaps and ended the half with a Cam Newton red-zone interception.  The Panthers pulled together at halftime and ran away in the second half to win 34-10, even though Newton's own string of big games was interrupted by a two-TD, two-INT performance against Atlanta.  "It was about, 'Everybody needs to step up and be responsible. Quit pointing fingers and be responsible,'" said wide receiver Brandon LaFell. "No matter who made a bad play or made a good play, it's time to stop sitting around and waiting for somebody else to make a play. Go make a play yourself.  We've become good at that, and our leader [Cam Newton] has become great at that." Those aforementioned injuries were to starting right guard Chris Scott and the reserve who replaced him, Jeff Byers.  The Panthers were forced to play the second half with Nate Chandler, a former defensive lineman who converted to offensive tackle and on Sunday was pressed into service on the interior line.  With Scott considered day-to-day and Chandler out for the year, the Panthers have re-signed Geoff Hangartner, who was released during the preseason.  Max Henson of the Panthers' official web site runs down that signing and the incredible turnover the team has had at guard this year.  Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer focused on Chandler, who filled in well despite never even practicing at guard, noting that the 24-year-old has already played quite a few positions in his football career.  Fowler also hands out his midseason "bests" and "worsts" for the Panthers, unsurprisingly tabbing Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly as the offensive and defensive MVPs and pinpointing some of the team's most telling statistics.


In New Orleans, the Saints are still stinging from their second straight trip to the Northeast that resulted in a narrow loss.  After the New England Patriots came back to win a 30-27 game over New Orleans in Week Six, just before the Saints' bye week, the New York Jets pulled off a 26-20 upset this past Sunday in the Meadowlands.  There were some clock-management issues in the game, which Head Coach Sean Payton took responsibility for, and Payton also blamed himself for not calling enough running plays.  The run defense, however, may have been the biggest problem.  “Stopping the run is important for us,” said Payton. “It starts with that defensively. The thing that’s disappointing about is we knew, getting off the bus, this was a team that was going to run the football. They knew they were going to run the football. I think everyone at MetLife Stadium knew they were going to run the football, and we weren’t able to stop them. That’s frustrating and we’ve got to look at why, and make those corrections."  It was former Saints RB Chris Ivory who did most of the damage, in the process dropping New Orleans to 25th in the NFL against the run, which the New Orleans Times-Picayune describes as the team's "weakness."   Still, the Saints are 6-2 and in first place in the NFC South, with two straight home games on tap, albeit with decent opponents in Dallas and San Francisco.  Whodatdish.com says it's definitely not time to panic, and ESPN.com still has New Orleans at #6 in their power rankings.  ESPN.com's Mike Triplett goes a step further, saying the Saints are "not in crisis mode."  Triplett quotes T Zach Strief as saying: "We’re fortunate the team was built with character in mind for situations like this -- when people will start looking for the issue, the panic. They always say there’s crisis or carnival. This is a great time for crisis. We’ve lost the last two on the road, and can we win on the road? That’ll be a big deal. And yet, I think the locker room is built to get better in these situations. To look in the mirror and say, ‘We have to improve. We’ve got to get better and not point fingers and look for reasons outside of that.’”  Externally, there are observers who feel the Saints season could go in either direction in the second half, including Peter Finney of the Times-Picayune.  As always, of course, the team's health will play a major part in which direction the season goes, and it was certainly not a positive development on Sunday when the Saints, already playing without WR Marques Colston (knee) lost RB Darren Sproles to a concussion.  In his day-after-game press conference, Payton said there would be no updated on Sproles' condition until Wednesday.  Payton also discussed a handful of dropped passes by the Saints' receivers in New York as well as the play of the offensive line.