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NFL AM/PM: Falcons End Panthers Bid For Perfection

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Jones Torches Panthers

Alas, the long national nightmare of whether the Carolina Panthers should play their starters to try and achieve a perfect 16-0 regular season is over, thanks to the Atlanta Falcons.

Atlanta talked the talk last week, and walked the walk on Sunday as they became the first NFL team to take down Carolina.

In a Football Insiders exclusive interview, Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones spoke about his matchup with Josh Norman, dismissing him as an elite cornerback.

“People say Josh Norman is tough, don’t get me wrong he’s a good player, but they play Cover 2,” Jones said after the team’s 23-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.  “If you want to be a lockdown corner, yeah you follow me but you only have to play one half.  The Darrelle Revis’, the Richard Sherman’s the Patrick Peterson’s, they follow people all over the field and take away half of the field.”

In the Falcons 20-13 victory over the Panthers, Jones was virtually unstoppable as he caught nine passes for 178 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown where he went up and over former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly.

“Julio made a great play on it,” Kuechly explained. “That’s really all there is. I thought I was in a good spot, but he went up and got it.”

The members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins can now pop their champagne, along with their Metamucil as they celebrate another season of being the only team in NFL history to achieve perfection.

“We’re 14-1 now,” Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said after going 17 for 30, for just 142 yards with a rushing touchdown. “We put ourselves in a situation that we can use this as fuel to the fire.”

The loss snaps an 18-game regular season winning streak by Carolina, and with Arizona’s victory over Green Bay, they will have to win next week against Tampa Bay or hope for a Cardinals loss to the Seahawks to secure the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage entering the NFC playoffs.

Belichick’s Blunder

Bill Belichick has been labeled as a “genius” by many, and his win-loss record more than backs that up.

Despite Belichick having plenty of hardware and being on the very short list of greatest coaches ever, he is far from infallible, and that was proven on Sunday.

In all his infinite wisdom, the Patriots “Yoda” won the overtime coin toss on Sunday and decided to kick off instead of taking the football.  Assumably knowing the NFL’s overtime rules where a team can end the game with a touchdown, Belichick still decided not to trust Tom Brady, perhaps the greatest quarterback ever with a chance to end the game with the football in his hands.

We wouldn’t be talking about the decision if it didn’t backfire.

The Jets marched down the field 80 yards in just five plays, capped by an Eric Decker six-yard touchdown reception over Patriots Pro Bowl cornerback and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler.

Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was asked if he was surprised by the move.

“Nothing surprises you about the Patriots and strategy and what they think,” the New York signal caller said. “We were excited to get the opportunity to get the ball and have a chance to put them away. We had a great drive there and we wanted to make sure as an offense–we had some chances to put them away that we didn’t – that that was the last time and they wouldn’t touch the ball anymore.”

“It was thrilling,” Decker said. “Those are the moments that you cherish.”

Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater tried to explain the decision.

“I just thought we would be able to choose the direction we kicked off from,” Slater said.

It was the third time since the 2012 rule change a team chose to kick off for overtime. The other times, New England and Minnesota, were winners.

We don’t know if Belichick was trying to send a message to the Jets, or if it was just blatant arrogance on his part, but either way it obviously didn’t work out.

“I thought that was the best thing to do,” Belichick smugly explained when asked about the decision to kick off.

The loss leaves New England with a 12-3 record, just one-half game ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals, who travel to Denver to play the Broncos Monday night.

The Jets victory was their fifth-straight and they now control their own destiny as far as a playoff spot.

“The last five weeks, they’ve all been kind of do-or-die games for us, and so that’s kind of how we’ve approached each one,” Fitzpatrick said. “We didn’t have much room for error and so we’ve got to get the next one to get in and that’s how we’ll view it. This is a fun run. This has been great, the last month or so, just the growth we’ve shown as a team and to do it with the guys that we have in that locker room. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Missed Opportunities

While teams like the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals secured big victories for playoff positioning, there were a few teams that fell flat on Sunday.

With an opportunity to keep pace with New York and Kansas City in the AFC Wildcard race, the Pittsburgh Steelers laid a major egg in Baltimore, as they lost to a Ravens team using their fourth starting quarterback of the season.

The dynamic Steelers offense could only muster 17 points against a Ravens defense that entered Sunday’s action ranked 25th in the NFL is scoring, yielding 25.7 points per game.

“This might sound brash, but we believed the whole time that we were going to beat Pittsburgh,” Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith who had one of the team’s two interceptions said. “Records, score, how good they’re playing — nothing matters when you’re playing Pittsburgh.”

Ryan Mallett, who was waived earlier this season by the Houston Texans for repeatedly showing up late to meetings and missing a team flight, was more than functional for Baltimore.  The former Arkansas Razorback signal caller completed 28 of 41 throws, for 274 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers.  It’s even more impressive when you take into account that former UCF wide receiver Kamar Aiken is the Ravens best target.

When the season ends and if the Steelers are on the outside of the playoffs looking in, they will look back to this loss against a fourth-string quarterback as the reason why.

While Pittsburgh was busy flushing their postseason hopes down the toilet, the Seattle Seahawks were making things exponentially more difficult for themselves by losing to the St. Louis Rams for the second time this season.

Case Keenum and the Rams went into Seattle, formerly the best home-field advantage in the NFL and left with a 23-17 victory.

Neither offense did much on Sunday, and the Seahawks committed three turnovers while dominating St. Louis in most statistical categories to truly grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.

“Ultimately we had multiple chances of winning the game. We can’t really make any excuses,” Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett said.

The loss drops Seattle to 9-6, now one game behind the Minnesota Vikings for the No. 5 seed in the NFC Playoffs.  The Seahawks travel to Arizona next Sunday to take on the 13-2 Cardinals in a game in which they’ll likely be underdogs.  If Seattle loses, they will finish with the No. 6 seed and will likely have to travel to Green Bay to play a Packers team which has already defeated them this season, and should have beaten them in the NFC Championship Game last season.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.