NFL

NFL AM: Carolina Panthers, Incredibly, Still on the Prowl

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Falcons’ Furious Rally Falls Short

Matty Ice almost melted the impenetrable forcefield at the “Frozen Tundra.” But despite a wild rally that saw the Falcons score 31 points in the second half, including three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Atlanta fell, 43-37, to drop to 5-8. The Packers moved one step closer to overtaking the No. 1 seed in the NFC with their fifth consecutive victory.

The Packers remain atop the NFC North and are in great position to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That would be a coup for Green Bay, as no opponent has won at Lambeau Field this season. The Falcons, despite the loss, remain atop NFC South at 5-8.

“In the first half, we didn’t play nearly as consistent as well as we needed to,” said head coach Mike Smith. “I thought we did a good job in the second half of the ball game to come back from the deficit we had.”

The game made plenty of fantasy football players happy in the final week of their regular season. Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers combined for over 700 yards and seven touchdowns; running backs Steven Jackson, James Starks and Eddie Lacy all found the end zone; and No. 1 receivers Julio Jones and Jordy Nelson combined for more than 400 yards and three scores.

Jones set a new career-high with 259 receiving yards, but was forced from the game late with a hip injury.

“Julio, he played really, really well tonight,” said Ryan after the game. “He competed really, really hard. He showcased on a national stage the kind of player that he is. That kind of production out of him is huge for our football team.”

While Jones was racking up yardage, Nelson was on the other side delivering backbreakers. He caught a 10-yard touchdown just 24 second before halftime, sending Green Bay into the locker room with a 31-7 advantage. In the fourth quarter, his 60-yard scoring catch gave the Packers just enough breathing room against the fast-charging Falcons.

The win was Green Bay’s seventh in a row at home this season, while the Falcons lost for the second time in the last three weeks.

Panthers Still on the Prowl

If this were professional wrestling, the part of the Panthers would be played by the Undertaker. You can almost envision it, rising from the grave in dramatic fashion just when everyone thought he was buried alive.

The Panthers, who carried a six-game losing streak into this week’s game against New Orleans, are incredibly just a half-game back in what is shaping up to be the most pathetic division race in NFL history.

Carolina’s next two games are at home against very beatable teams: the Buccaneers and the Browns. After that, Carolina wraps up the season on the road against the Falcons. If the Panthers win those three games — and the Saints lose one more along the way — Carolina would become the first repeat champion in the history of the NFC South.

Getting one more loss out of New Orleans isn’t asking for much, especially given how bad the Saints looked on Sunday against Carolina. The Panthers led 38-3 after three quarters, powered by four Cam Newton scores (three through the air, one on the ground), and handed the Saints their fourth straight home loss for the first time since 1999.

“Obviously, it’s embarrassing how we played and how we coached,” said head coach Sean Payton. “You pick an area and it was awful. You’re not going to have a chance to win when you turn it over that frequently in the first quarter, you don’t tackle, you give up almost 300 yards rushing, you jump offsides … you name it, check it off.”

New Orleans’ next chance to snap its home losing streak is in Week 16 against the Falcons. If the Saints don’t win that one, it will essentially snuff out their playoff hopes and set up a potential win-and-in finale between the Falcons and the Undertaker — I mean, the Panthers — in Week 17.

Jeff Fisher is Quietly Hilarious

The jury is still out on Jeff Fisher. He still seems a little like a poor man’s Marty Schottenheimer, good for making a bad team competitive but not for making a competitive team elite. He feels like a 7-9 record just waiting to happen, often buoyed by the fact his teams continue to play hard even after being eliminated from the playoff hunt (which has happened too early too often throughout his head coaching career).

But what we can say about Fisher for sure is this: he is freaking hilarious.

In Sunday’s game in Washington, he made his game-day captains Janoris Jenkins, Greg Robinson, Alec Ogletree, Stedman Bailey, Zac Stacy and Michael Brockers. All six players were selected using draft picks the Rams acquired from the Redskins in their 2012 trade-up for Robert Griffin III.

“It made too much sense for us to go ahead and recognize the guys that probably wouldn’t be here had it not been for that trade, so we wanted to do that before the game,” Fisher said on Monday. “It was a memory that will last them for a lifetime. It’s a good idea.”

True, the Redskins got a least one playoff appearance out of RGIII, while the Rams have not been to the playoffs since 2004 (when they snuck in at 8-8). And true, the Rams are one of the very few teams in the league with a quarterback situation less desirable than Washington’s. Nonetheless, you have to appreciate the comical moment for what it is.

Who knows? Maybe when the Rams host the Cardinals this Sunday Arizona will send out Kevin Dyson as an honorary captain. You know … to remind Coach Fisher that he’s almost a winner.

Now that would be funny.

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About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.