NFC South Spin cycle: Week Five

Posted Oct. 08, 2012 @ 1:02 p.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

The Falcons are 5-0 for the first time in franchise history, and the Saints finally have a victory, but the Panthers continued their downward spiral in Week Five.

FALCONS

What we learned: The Falcons can win, even when it’s not their best day and the elements become a factor in the game. For the second straight week, the Falcons failed to score first. QB Matt Ryan threw a pick-six to Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan and Atlanta found itself in a hole. For the first time this season, Atlanta was trailing heading into the fourth quarter, but the offense finally turned it on at rainy, chilly FedEx Field and scored 17 points in the final quarter to secure the club’s first 5-0 start in franchise history.

What’s in store next: The lowly Raiders, coming off a Week Five bye, will visit the Georgia Dome. While Oakland’s only win is a respectable one — it defeated the Steelers at home — the club has been handled with relative ease in its three losses. The Raiders, who allow 31.3 points per game (third most in the league), are going to be in for a long day against the Falcons’ potent offense. QB Matt Ryan could have a field day. Oakland has allowed quarterbacks to complete 76 percent of their passes for 722 yards, seven TDs and no interceptions in its past two games.

What the heck? We did not expect him to go through a full season without making some mistakes, but, after throwing 272 consecutive passes without an interception — a franchise record — Ryan has been picked off in three straight games. He was uncharacteristically sloppy in the first half Sunday, throwing a pick-six and losing his only fumble. However, Ryan did match a career high by completing 34 passes.

PANTHERS

What we learned: The Panthers are playing to their competition. One week after nearly upsetting the Falcons at the Georgia Dome, the Panthers blew another chance to get a much-needed win, falling to the Seahawks at home, 16-12. At 1-4, the Panthers are not meeting their own expectations and the heat continues to rise on head coach Ron Rivera. QB Cam Newton’s play is up and down, and the rest of the team has followed suit. Just when you think the Panthers have taken a step forward, they seem to move in reverse.

What’s in store next: Carolina will have a long while to reflect on its loss to the Seahawks — the Panthers have a bye in Week Six and will next play the Cowboys, another team that has dealt with disappointment this season, at home Oct. 21. Dallas will be coming off a game vs. the AFC North-leading Ravens. The schedule is set up in a way that allows the Panthers to spend virtually the entire month of October at home, and if Carolina does not beat Dallas, it will be in serious danger of going 0-for-October. The Panthers’ only road game of the month is Oct. 28 at Chicago.

What the heck? Remember that Panthers offense that racked up four touchdowns and 404 net yards and turned the ball over only once against the Falcons last week? Where did it go? Carolina’s offense produced one field goal vs. Seattle. The team’s other nine points came from a defensive TD and a safety. The Panthers were held to 190 net yards and fumbled the ball away twice. RB DeAngelo Williams’ third-quarter fumble set up what would be Seattle’s lone and game-winning TD.

SAINTS

What we learned: The Saints are not going to roll over, even though many league observers have stuck a fork in their season. They suffered some crushing defeats during their 0-4 start, but New Orleans has a lot of fight left in it. The Saints fell behind three different times against the Chargers on Sunday night, and they kept battling back, overcoming a 10-point second-half deficit to win, 31-24, on a night when QB Drew Brees broke Johnny Unitas’ 52-year-old record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass.

What’s in store next: The Saints have a bye in Week Six, giving them plenty of time to prepare for the Buccaneers, who have lost three straight games since beating the Panthers in the season opener (the Bucs were on bye in Week Five). The Tampa Bay game will be Aaron Kromer’s final week as interim head coach before he hands the reins back over to Joe Vitt, whose suspension will be over after six games. It will also be the Bucs’ third consecutive home game. They host the Chiefs in Week Six.

What the heck? We get it — the Saints are a passing team. No matter how you slice it, though, the team’s running game has badly underperformed. It’s ranked 28th in the league through five games. The Saints have averaged less than 2.5 yards per carry in their past two games (40 carries for 98 yards). This, for a team that traded its 2012 first-round pick to draft RB Mark Ingram (averaging 2.9 yards per carry this season) in the first round in 2011 and spent big money to replace Carl Nicks with Ben Grubbs at left guard after signing ORG Jahri Evans to a seven-year, $57 million deal in 2010.