CHARLOTTE — Good morning. I wrote this blog while listening to Darryl Ledbetter defend his University of Cincinnati goons. Don’t be fooled by the bow tie.
Drove up to Charlotte last night and stayed in a hotel that turned out to be the Carolina Panthers team hotel. Discovered that this morning when I was on the elevator with one of the players. Didn’t recognize him, but I know it wasn’t Cam Newton. And no, I didn’t trip him.
It’s cold here. My car temperature gauge said 38 degrees. So maybe the weather will wake up the Falcons. Wrote a column in today’s AJC with coach Mike Smith, whom I spent about 30 minutes with the other day. He acknowledged the Falcons’ inconsistencies and conceded that his players’ focus isn’t where it needs to be.
At 7-5, the Falcons are still in a good position to make the playoffs. (They’re currently the sixth seed in the NFC and would play at New Orleans if the playoffs started today.) But last week’s loss at Houston was troubling and it illustrated the team’s ups-and-downs this season.
That said, I expect the Falcons to play well today. They’re 16-3 following defeats under coach Mike Smith.
Expect a heavy dose of Michael Turner on offense. Turner has rushed for 707 yards and 11 touchdowns in seven games against Carolina, including five 100-yard-plus games in the past six.
“He’ll be the real focal point this week,” wide receiver Roddy White said earlier this week. “We might run it 50 times.”
That would be one way to avoid the ills of the passing game. I know offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey is everybody’s favorite whipping boy, but Mularkey wasn’t the problem in the 17-10 loss at Houston. Receivers had at least seven drops and quarterback Matt Ryan had several misfires, at least a couple of which could’ve gone for touchdowns. That’s not about play-calling.
The Falcons beat Carolina 31-17 in week 6. Newton hit 21 of 35 for 237 passes but he had three interceptions. Turner rushed for 139 yards and two scores in the game. The Panthers’ defense ranks only 27th in the NFL against the run
The Falcons have only four games left. This is the time of year when strong playoff teams start to separate themselves from the field. So let’s see how the team reacts today.
By Jeff Schultz