Costly errors, turnovers and bad luck doomed the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. In the end, all three NFC South teams are off to an 0-1 start. So what exactly went wrong?
Let’s start with the Falcons, who wasted no time having things fall apart on them. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked on the very first play from scrimmage, the Falcons went three-and-out after a near-sack on third down and the Vikings blocked the punt attempt.
After a penalty on the Vikings’ first play, Kirk Cousins only needed two plays to find Adam Thielen in the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown. The Falcons found themselves down 7-0 just three minutes into their season.
Just two minutes later, Ryan threw an interception as Anthony Harris stepped in front of Julio Jones and came away with the football. A minute and a half after that, Dalvin Cook scooted into the end zone from 19 yards out. Just like that, it’s 14-0 Minnesota and the Falcons are already reeling.
Midway through the second quarter, after the Falcons forced the Vikings to punt, Atlanta was building an excellent drive. Ryan was carving up the Vikings’ defense and moved the offense near the red zone. As fate would have it, diaster struck again for the Falcons as Vikings’ cornerback Trae Waynes forced a Devonta Freeman fumble that was recovered by Minnesota. And yet again, the Falcons paid dearly for it. Minnesota worked their way to the 1-yard line, thanks to strong running by Cook and rookie Alexander Mattison. Cousins capped the drive off with a 1-yard touchdown and Atlanta was facing a 21-0 deficit.
Just when it looked like Atlanta was finally figuring things out and their offense looked settled, Anthony Harris played spoiler again, picking off Ryan for a second time. And sure enough, Minnesota turned that interception into seven points again, as Cook scored for the second time. If you’re keeping track, that’s 21 points off three Falcons’ turnovers and another seven from the blocked punt.
The Falcons at least avoided the shutout with a touchdown late in the third quarter and late in the fourth quarter. But Atlanta was swarmed all day by Minnesota. Just when they thought they had an opening, the Vikings shut the door very quickly. In the end, it was a miserable, 28-12 decision for the Falcons. Ryan was sacked four times, killing a lot of momentum Atlanta attempted to build. It’s early, but the problems that haunted Atlanta in 2018 are already starting to come back in 2019.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bruce Arians’ first game as head coach in Tampa Bay didn’t go so hot. The Buccaneers looked out of whack early against the San Francisco 49ers. They went three-and-out and had their punt blocked on their first possession of the game. That sure sounds an awful lot like how the Falcons started, doesn’t it? And the result wasn’t much different in the end for Tampa Bay as it was for Atlanta, but it wasn’t as bad.
49ers block the punt!! pic.twitter.com/4IPm6nhZfJ
— #BOOMIN (@ftbeard_17) September 8, 2019
After thinking they had a touchdown to George Kittle, the 49ers were flagged for offensive pass interference. San Francisco had to settle for a field goal, but the Buccaneers still cost themselves three points with the blocked punt.
After the teams swapped punts, the Buccaneers’ offense was moving really well. Quarterback Jameis actually looked in control of the offense. And it looked like Tampa Bay was ready to take a 7-3 lead midway through the second quarter, as Winston hit tight end Cameron Brate for 17 yards. Alas for the Buccaneers, right tackle Demar Dotson was flagged for holding, wiping the score off the board.
But things were looking bright as Tampa Bay converted third-and-17 as Ronald Jones took a screen 18 yards to set the Buccaneers up with first-and-goal. Two plays later, Winston found Brate again in the end zone, from nine yards out. And all seemed right again at Raymond James Stadium. But just like the first supposed score, Demar Dotson was nailed for holding again, taking a touchdown off the scoreboard for the second time in the drive.
And then the cherry was placed on top. On third-and-goal, O.J. Howard coughed up the football. What could have been seven points twice and what should have been at least three points resulted in a goose egg for Winston and the offense. A 16-play, 74-yard drive that took more than eight minutes off the clock was completely wiped out.
But it was made up for on the 49ers’ ensuing drive, when Vernon Hargeaves intercepted Jimmy Garoppolo and returned 15 yards to put Tampa up 7-3. So there was some positive that came out of that sequence of events. It did not last long.
Tampa Bay had a chance to force a turnover on downs when the 49ers were facing fourth-and-one with about six minutes left in the second quarter. They had excellent coverage and eventually sacked Garoppolo. Or so they thought. That’s because Carlton Davis was flagged for holding, which resulted in an automatic first down for San Francisco.
The 49ers settled for another field goal and pulled within 7-6. By the way, the 49ers also had two touchdowns called back because of penalties, so things could have been worse. But it’s still three points the Buccaneers could have saved.
Unfortunately, things did get worse for Tampa. On their first play of the ensuing drive, Winston’s pass intended for Howard was tipped and intercepted by 49ers’ linebacker Mark Nzeocha. In fact, the pass went through Howard’s hands and into Nzeocha’s. The Buccaneers were saved when 49ers’ rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel fumbled and Tampa Bay recovered when it looked like San Francisco was going to put another three points on the board.
Tampa Bay was on their way on forcing a 49ers’ punt just six plays in the second half when a Garoppolo deep pass fell incomplete. But it was not to be, as Carlton Davis was hit for pass interference. And this time, the Buccaneers would really pay the price. Two plays later, Richie James Jr. went 39 yards through the air for a touchdown and 49ers were back in the lead, 13-7.
And then this happened.
RICHARD SHERMAN PICK SIX!!!!! pic.twitter.com/VprReQiqhn
— #BOOMIN (@ftbeard_17) September 8, 2019
San Francisco 20, Tampa Bay 7 in the blink of an eye.
But then Tampa Bay finally had a touchdown that wasn’t negated by a penalty, by some miracle. Richard Sherman was flagged for holding, which was declined and Chris Godwin found himself in the end zone to make the score 20-14.
The Buccaneers were looking to take advantage of a missed field by Robbie Gould and worked their way inside the 10-yard line. That’s when Winston was penalized for intentional grounding. Dare Ogunbowale got Tampa back inside the five on third-and-goal, bringing out Matt Gay for a 22-yard field goal. But a San Francisco neutral-zone infraction penalty moved the ball near the two and Tampa decided to go for it.
Winston saw his pass nearly intercepted and the Buccaneers came away empty-handed again as they turned the ball over on downs.
After a San Francisco punt, Tampa Bay found themselves back in the red zone again with a chance to take the lead. Then Winston took a killer sack on third-and-seven that lost momentum but still put three points on the board, making the score 20-17.
After the 49ers made the game 23-17 on another Robbie Gould field goal, Winston had a chance to play hero and lead the Buccaneers to a comeback victory. Those dreams were dashed very quickly as Winston was swarmed by 49er defenders and Winston made an awful throw that went right to cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who went 25 yards to seal the deal. The two-point conversion made the score 31-17.
One last attempt for the Buccaneers fell short, ending with an incomplete pass to Mike Evans on a fourth-down attempt and the Buccaneers start 0-1.
The 49ers intercepted Winston three times Sunday. They had two interceptions all of 2018. They now already have as many pick-sixes in 2019 as they had interceptions in 2018. And Tampa Bay was penalized 11 times to San Francisco’s eight. That’s the story of this game. And now the Buccaneers have a quick turnaround and a short time to forget this game and move on. They play Thursday night at Carolina.
The Carolina Panthers had somewhat better luck on their first possession against the Los Angeles Rams than the Falcons and Buccaneers did. But they still saw the drive end in disaster.
For one, the Panthers nearly ruined a drive when D.J. Moore created confusion in the backfield, seemingly running the wrong way and leaving no one for Cam Newton to throw the ball to, resulting in a negative play. Moore did make the catch on the next play but on the following play, had the ball punched out by Rams’ linebacker Cory Littleton, ending the Panthers’ drive in a hurry. And when you’re playing the Rams, you cannot afford mistakes like that because Sean McVay will quite often take advantage.
Fortunately for the Panthers, the Rams did not take advantage this time around, but they would still really like to have that drive back. They left points on the board there and in their next drive, which ended in a missed 53-yard field goal by Joey Slye, while the Rams later kicked a 49-yard field goal of their own from Greg Zuerlein.
The Panthers shot themselves in the foot again with a backwards lateral that landed on the ground and ended up in the hands of the Rams at the 10-yard line. And this time, Los Angeles took advantage.
It took two plays for Malcolm Brown to find paydirt, putting the Rams up 10-0. Eventually, the teams traded punts and field goals, making the score 13-3 at halftime. Doesn’t that score sound familiar to the Rams? At least they’re on the right side of it this time.
The Panthers had their chances on offense, but two turnovers and three sacks in the first half really derailed the team and left plenty of points on the table.
The Panthers did come out firing in the second half, answering a Rams field goal with a touchdown to pull within 16-10. But their struggles against the run Sunday bit them again, as Malcolm Brown scored his second touchdown of the game and the Rams went back ahead by 13, 23-10.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Panthers are trailing 23-13. But all of a sudden, they are building a lot of momentum and starting to feel good about themselves. Linebacker Jermaine Carter blocks a Johnny Hekker punt and Carolina is set up inside the Rams’ 5-yard line. Two plays later, Christian McCaffrey scored his second touchdown of the game and the Panthers were down by just three, 23-20.
Then, James Bradberry came up with a huge interception of Jared Goff, fresh off his contract extension, and all of a sudden, Carolina is in control. They wouldn’t be in control for long.
Carolina went three-and-out on the next possession and then their run defense bit them again. Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown continued their strong days and Tyler Higbee, fresh off his contract extension, capped off the drive with a touchdown and Los Angeles was now up 30-20.
Cam Newton tried to rally the troops and get Carolina back in the game. Cory Littleton was having none of it.
CAM WYD?!?!?!?! pic.twitter.com/pYrCtOGZsC
— #BOOMIN (@ftbeard_17) September 8, 2019
Fortunately for Carolina, the Rams were flagged for taunting after the interception and the subsequent drive ended in a missed field goal for Zuerlein, keeping the score 30-20.
The Panthers drove the field after the missed field goal and Alex Armah found the end zone to make the score 30-27. And it seemed they had a shot if their defense was able to hold. Spoiler: it didn’t.
Once again, Carolina’s achilles heel was their run defense and it was Gurley who sealed the deal with a four-yard run and second-and-two, securing the win for the Rams.
Gurley and Brown were a key reason Carolina lost this game. They combined for 25 rushes for 150 yards and two touchdowns, both from Brown.
Carolina didn’t mess themselves up as bad as Atlanta or Tampa Bay did. But their inability to stop the run and their early sacks and turnovers eventually became a hole too big for Carolina to overcome.
The Panthers only lost by three, but it feels far from a three-point game and the Panthers need to figure out their run defense quickly. They’ll face the duo of Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones on Thursday when they play the Buccaneers. Then it’s a date on the road with David Johnson and the Arizona Cardinals (the 0-0-1 Cardinals by the way).