NFC South Spin cycle: Week Three

Posted Sept. 24, 2012 @ 4:41 p.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

The undefeated Falcons had no trouble disposing of the Chargers, while the rest of the NFC South came up short in Week Three. The Panthers and Buccaneers are still not ready to beat the league's better teams, and the Saints collapsed to remain the division's only winless team.

FALCONS

What we learned: The Falcons are good, and very tough — both mentally and physically. It would have been easy for the team to play flat and let one get away in San Diego coming off a short week on a long road trip to face a 2-0 team. The Falcons did not allow those things to become excuses for them. They built a 20-0 lead before halftime and never let the Chargers come close to getting back into the game in their 27-3 win. Atlanta is 3-0 for the first time since the 2004 season.

What’s in store next: Atlanta returns home to get its first look at Cam Newton since last season. The Falcons are the only NFC South team Newton has yet to beat, and Carolina has not defeated Atlanta at the Georgia Dome since 2007, the year before Matt Ryan arrived in town. The Panthers, who were blown out at home by the Giants in Week Three, will have had extra time to prepare for the Falcons after playing on Thursday night.

What the heck? The Chargers were down by only two scores into the final minute of the first half, yet they only ran the ball seven times in the first two quarters (twice in the first quarter). Meanwhile, Philip Rivers dropped back to pass 15 times. That’s not a recipe for success against an opportunistic secondary and a team that leads the league in points off turnovers. Atlanta ranks 24th vs. the run and is allowing five yards per carry (tied for the third-highest average in the league). Look for teams — starting with the Panthers — to try to test Atlanta’s run “D” more often.

PANTHERS

What we learned: The Panthers are a long way off from being a playoff-caliber team. They can keep making T-shirts supporting C Ryan Kalil’s preseason newspaper advertisement that said Carolina is ready to contend, but the fact is, they are not. The Giants made that abundantly clear in their 36-7 throttling of the Panthers in Week Three. 

What’s in store next: Carolina will try to rebound on the road against the Falcons, who are one of the league’s three undefeated teams. Head coach Ron Rivera said Monday that there will be no lineup changes this week, so the Panthers apparently don’t think moving any backups into the starting lineup will give them a better chance to win. They need better play from every position, but it does start with QB Cam Newton, who is under fire after a poor performance vs. the Giants.

What the heck? It’s hard to figure out why Rivera would not at least try something a little different in terms of personnel. Perhaps he will and he just does not want to tip his hand heading into a big game by revealing his plans at a press conference. If the Panthers don’t have backups that are capable of doing a better job than some of the starters at this point, that’s a massive indictment of the roster built by GM Marty Hurney.

SAINTS

What we learned: The Saints completely lack the instincts that led them to a division title last season. Observers that have watched this team for a long time do not recognize these Saints, who are 0-3 and have sole possession of last place in the NFC South. They held an 18-point lead with 5:30 left in the third quarter vs. the Chiefs on Sunday, but they let it get away and lost in overtime, at home, to a Kansas City team that was 0-2 and still might be one of the league’s worst clubs. We knew the Saints were not a good team heading into the game, and we found out they are even worse than we thought.

What’s in store next: The 1-1 Packers will host the Saints at Lambeau Field — the site of Green Bay’s wild Week One win over the Saints last season — on Sunday. The Packers will have a short week to prepare after playing the Seahawks in Seattle Monday night, so maybe that will give the Saints a bit of an edge.

What the heck? The Saints won the turnover battle 3-1 Sunday and kept the Chiefs from scoring a touchdown all four times they moved the ball into the red zone. That is typically a recipe for success. Yet, the Saints still managed to find a way to lose a crucial game.

BUCCANEERS

What we learned: The Bucs are not going down without a fight this season. There was speculation that would be the case this season with hard-nosed Greg Schiano at the helm, and those suspicions have been confirmed in the first three weeks of the season. It does not mean that the club is satisfied with losing. All we have to do is look at Schiano’ furious reactions on the sideline when mistakes are made to see how little patience he has for them, and the Bucs had their fair share of flubs Sunday. Still, this team is much improved. It showed that again in a 16-10 loss to the Cowboys.

What’s in store next: The Bucs will face a fellow 1-2 team in Week Four as they return home to host the Redskins to round out their pre-bye-week portion of the schedule. Both squads have suffered two tough losses in a row after beating NFC South teams in Week One. Washington has participated in three consecutive high-scoring contests to open the season, falling to the Rams and Bengals since beating the Saints at the Superdome in Robert Griffin III’s debut.

What the heck? The Tampa Bay offense went missing for much of Sunday. One week after scoring 34 points on the road in a loss to the Giants, the Bucs started the game with an interception of Tony Romo that they cashed in for a TD. However, they didn’t put points on the board again until their final possession, when they kicked a field goal. The Bucs punted on eight consecutive possessions, from early in the second quarter until late in the fourth quarter, and didn’t have a drive longer than 32 yards until late in the game. QB Josh Freeman completed only 10-of-28 passes and Tampa Bay gained only three yards per offensive play. Coordinator Mike Sullivan needs to help his offense create a consistent identity.