What’s that phrase? You can’t win them all! Although they came oh so close, the Carolina Panthers are not going to be undefeated this year. The members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins have been spared once again and remain the only team in NFL history to have a perfect season.
The team that beat the Panthers was somewhat of a surprise. If the Atlanta Falcons did the feat way back in the beginning of the season, then maybe there wouldn’t have been so many raised eyebrows. But the Falcons have not been playing well in the last few weeks.
The Falcon victory was due to one Julio Jones. The Falcon wide receiver caught nine passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. In fact, the score was a spectacular 70-yard play in the third quarter that gave Atlanta the lead. The Panthers then came up empty in two possessions in the final three minutes and their hopes of a dream season were dashed.
The Panthers have had a way to pull out the close ones with just a few minutes on the clock this year. Not this time. They had their chance though. Cam Newton and company got the ball with only 90 seconds left and no timeouts. Newton completed a 19-yard pass to Corey Brown on first down. However, he fumbled the ball on the next play due to Vic Beasley Jr.’s strip. Adrian Clayborn recovered for the Falcons and the game was over.
This marked the Panthers’ first loss since November 30, 2014 against Minnesota. In this game they were stopped cold after scoring on their opening drive. They added to their score with just two Graham Gano field goals in the second half.
Perhaps the Panthers lost because Newton wasn’t spectacular. He completed 17 passes on 30 attempts for just 142 yards and no touchdowns. He also added 46 rushing yards including a touchdown on seven carries. He was sacked twice.
The Falcons’ quarterback was better on this day. Matt Ryan finished with 23 completions on 30 throws for 306 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked twice. Devonta Freeman led the Falcons’ runners collecting 73 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. Shayne Graham contributed two field goals from 37-yards and 54-yards in the final three minutes.
The Panthers trailed in the game 14-10 in the fourth quarter when Ryan fumbled a shotgun snap on the Panthers 37-yard line. Josh Norman recovered setting up a Graham Gano 47-yard field goal that cut the Falcons’ lead to 14-13.
The Panthers were certainly not helped by two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, including one on Charles Tillman that helped the Falcons keep the drive on their first possession alive. The 16-play, 80-yard march ultimately ended on a Freeman touchdown run of four yards.
Leading rusher for the Panthers was Cameron Artis-Payne, who collected 49 yards on five carries.
The loss means that the Panthers’ have to wait until next week to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs. FALCONS 20 PANTHERS 13
Running back Ka’Deem Carey scored on a one-yard run and one-yard pass, Robbie Gould converted field goals from 26, 27, 49, and 50 yards, John Timu recovered two fumbles, and the running backs including Carey, Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford combined to rush for a total of 174 yards as the Chicago Bears beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The win was only the second for the Bears in the last six games. The Buccaneers have now lost four of five, including three straight.
The Bears defense also forced three turnovers, one an interception by Harold Jones-Quartey on the goal line, and held Bucs’ star running back Doug Martin to only 49 yards on 17 carries. He also lost two fumbles. However, he was able to score on a 4-yard run set up by a blocked punt. Martin also contributed five consecutive runs on a six-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that finished with a 50-yard touchdown pass From Jameis Winston to Charles Sims.
Still, the Bears outrushed the Buccaneers 95 yards to 40 yards.
Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler completed 20 passes on 27 attempts for 156 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He was sacked once. Leading rusher for the Bears was Jeremy Langford, who gained 83 yards on 19 carries. Matt Forte gained 54 yards on 11 carries. Leading receiver was Zach Miller, who caught seven passes for 69 yards.
Winston finished with 15 completions on 29 throws for 295 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked once. Martin, Sims and Winston combined to gain 104 rushing yards. Sims caught three passes for 72 yards and a touchdown, Mike Evans had four catches for 61 yards, Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught two passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, and Cameron Brate had one catch for 46 yards. BEARS 26 BUCCANEERS 21
The New Orleans Saints have had an up and down season due pretty much to its porous defense, which has allowed 43 touchdown passes this season, eclipsing the old NFL record of 40 set by the 1963 Denver Broncos. The teams’ problems have been expanded by the offensive line’s inability to protect Drew Brees. The quarterback has been sacked 31 times and there’s still one more game to play. There is no way anybody can blame Brees for the team’s problems. Since week 16 Brees has completed 396 of his 585 throws for a completion percentage of 67.1 percent. He’s collected a total of 4,547 yards so far and averages more than 300 yards passing per game. He also has 31 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions and has earned a quarterback rating of 100.7.
In week 16 Brees led the Saints against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He had been nursing a plantar fasica foot injury for six days, he was still in pain and yet he started and played the entire game.
With a bad foot he still managed to complete 25 passes on 36 throws for 412 yards and three touchdowns and survived a sack and helped his team defeat the Jaguars. Brees has missed only one game in his 10 seasons with the Saints. He achieved 4,000 yards passing in a season last week for an NFL-record 10th straight year. Moreover, this game marked his 13th career 400-yard game, tying him with Hall of Famer Dan Marino for second in NFL history. Only Peyton Manning has more –- 14.
He didn’t have to do it all himself. Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks contributed with five catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. The TD pass was for 71 yards and he finished the game achieving the benchmark of collecting more than 1,000 yards for the season.
The leading rusher for the Saints was Tim Hightower, who gained 122 yards on 27 carries and scored two touchdowns. He is also an inspiration having missed three full seasons due to a knee injury and complications as a result and has run well for the Saints since signing with them.
In addition, newly reacquired running back Travaris Cadet contributed with three catches for 89 yards including a 44-yard touchdown reception.
Jaguars’ quarterback Blake Bortles passed for 368 yards and four touchdowns, including a 90-yarder to Allen Robinson. Robinson finished with six catches for 151 yards. Allen Hurns caught eight passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns. With Sunday’s performance, Hurns joins Robinson with 1,000 yards receiving for the season. Marquise Lee also had a touchdown catch. SAINTS 38 JAGUARS 27
NFC SOUTH STANDINGS Overall Division Conference
c-CAROLINA PANTHERS 14-1 4-1 10-1
ATLANTA FALCONS 8-7 1-4 5-6
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 6-9 3-2 5-6
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 6-9 2-3 4-7
C – Clinched Division
NFC SOUTH SCHEDULE
SAINTS @ FALCONS SUNDAY, JANUARY 3, 2016
BUCCANEERS @ PANTHERS SUNDAY, JANUARY 3, 2016