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Panthers Earn First Round Bye In Nail-Biter Against Falcons

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ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 29: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on December 29, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons (Credit, Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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By Danny Cox

Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers really had a lot to play for in the final week of the 2013 NFL season. A victory could measure the difference between the second seed in the playoffs or a sixth seed. It could also determine whether they would get a first-round bye or have to play next week. Fortunately, the Panthers pulled out a victory over the Atlanta Falcons, but a lot was left to be desired for the postseason.

Coaching Grade: C

It’s kind of hard to determine what Rivera had in mind for this week’s game plan as the team came out flat in all aspects and almost gave it away really early. Falling behind 10-0 to start the game, the Panthers just couldn’t get anything going on offense and the defense couldn’t stop a soul … but the latter obviously changed after the first quarter.

Riverboat Ron appeared to lose his gumption in the first and fourth quarter, but looked more like himself in the middle two quarters. That is the way the Panthers need to play in the playoffs or they’re going to be in some trouble.

Offense Grade: D+

The offense on Sunday was just stagnant and looked nothing like the one that has been shown throughout most of the season. Cam Newton completed 15-of-27 for just 149 yards, but he did have two touchdowns to go along with one interception.

DeAngelo Williams was the key for the offense against the Falcons as he had two receptions for 75 yards and 33 yards on 10 carries, but he did have one big lost fumble. Greg Olsen had a good game, but the offense seemed rather lost without Steve Smith, who sat out with injury.

Defense Grade: B+

Defensively, the Panthers just didn’t look the same. The first quarter was miserable and they could do nothing to stop the Falcons. When Melvin White picked off Matt Ryan and ran it into the end zone from eight yards out, it sparked something and brought about the defense that has dominated much of the season.

Ryan was indeed sacked nine times for a loss of 49 yards, and the defense would end up with a 100 percent passing grade if not for the first quarter. Carolina has the defense to stop anyone in the league, but the team cannot just rely on them throughout the playoffs in order to keep advancing.

Special Teams Grade: B

Graham Gano really didn’t have much work to do on Sunday as he didn’t attempt a single field goal, but hit all three of his extra points.

Brad Nortman was busy as he punted six times for an average of 48.7 yards. He did his job extremely well though as he only had on touchback and had his punts down three times inside the Falcons 20 with a long of 64.

For more Carolina Panthers news and updates, visit Carolina Panthers Central.

Danny Cox knows a little something about the NFL, whether it means letting you know what penalty will come from the flag just thrown on the field or quickly spouting off who the Chicago Bears drafted in the first round of the 1987 draft (Jim Harbaugh). He plans on bringing you the best news, previews, recaps, and anything else that may come along with the exciting world of the National Football League. Danny is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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