Sometimes, it just takes one thing to change a football team’s demeanor.
In the case of the Carolina Panthers, it happened Sunday after a couple of third-quarter scraps with the Atlanta Falcons’ offense, igniting a sudden comeback from a 16-3 deficit in what would be a 19-17 loss to the Falcons.
It started when Panthers cornerback Josh Norman and Atlanta receiver Harry Douglas locked up and Falcons’ receiver Devin Hester dove in on top of Norman. Suddenly, little scuffles broke out in a couple of spots.
The animosity boiled over again a few plays later, and it seemed to fuel the Panthers, who had been emotionally flat until then.
“Once they started, we started,” Norman said. “We’re not going to take anything from nobody. That’s the kind of defense we are. Once they started, hey, we took them to a dark place, and they didn’t want to go there. We just kept going back and forth with them. Whatever.”
Asked what started the roughhousing, Norman said he wasn’t sure.
“They were out there chippy the whole time,” Norman said. “So we got right back there with them. (Douglas) came through and gave me a little check, so I checked him back. We went down to the ground and battled for a little while.
“And when we were down there, he got a couple from me. So that’s all I can speak on. I don’t know anything else. Once they got at it, we got at it, and that’s the kind of defense we are.”
Linebacker Luke Kuechly was involved in a scuffle and said he could sense the Panthers’ energy changing.
“After that, everything picked up, and we were able to make some plays from there,” Kuechly said.
Tackle Byron Bell said the offense rode the wave of energy.
“Sometimes you need that to fire guys up. I hate it takes that sometimes,” Bell said.
“God forbid one of our guys would have gotten ejected or somebody would’ve got hurt out there. I feel like if we just go out there and play our game, we shouldn’t have to go out there and fight every play to get guys fired up. I feel like that helped us and got the momentum on our side.
HITTING IT BIG: Rookie Philly Brown had been waiting for a moment like the one that arrived Sunday.
Having caught just four passes since the third week of the season, Brown pulled in a 47-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton, beating Atlanta defender Robert McClain to give the Panthers a 17-16 lead with 6:29 remaining.
“It was a simple nine route, and Cam threw a good ball. It made my job easy,” Brown said.
“I just had to catch it and get into the end zone.”
It came less than three minutes after Newton and Kelvin Benjamin had connected on a 22-yard touchdown pass to snap the Carolina offense from its slumber.
“Momentum is a big thing in football,” Brown said. “People start believing. It only takes one play to get everything turned around and get the crowd back into it. Momentum can take you a long way.”
INACTIVES: The Panthers’ inactives were cornerback Bene Benwikere, running back Chris Ogbonnaya, safety Robert Lester, tackle David Foucault, guard Amini Silatolu, tackle Mike Remmers and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.
The Falcons’ inactives were quarterback Sean Renfree, receiver Freddie Martino, cornerback Javier Arenas, linebacker Tyler Starr, tackle Jonathan Scott, tackle Cameron Bradfield and defensive end Cliff Matthews.
• Catches such as the 22-yard touchdown reception by Kelvin Benjamin in the third quarter are why the Panthers drafted him. Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant thought he’d broken up the pass only to find out otherwise when he looked at Benjamin and the Panthers rookie nodded that, yes, he’d made the catch.
• The Panthers finally get their bye next Sunday. Not exactly the relaxing scenario they imagined a few weeks ago.
• One bit of good news: Running back Mike Tolbert will be back after being out since a loss to Pittsburgh in Week 3.
• Nice 46-yard kickoff return by Fozzy Whitaker in the third quarter. It was, however, followed by a three-and-out, the third straight in the second half if you include the third-down interception Cam Newton threw on the Panthers’ first possession after the break.
• It was interesting to see Whitaker get three carries in the second half, including two in the fourth quarter when he was in the lineup instead of DeAngelo Williams.
• When Cam Newton and the offense continued to struggle, the fans expressed their frustration with cheers that sounded similar to the ‘Luuuke’ cheer – only they weren’t delivered with the same encouraging enthusiasm. It sounded different in the fourth quarter until the place went quiet after Graham Gano’s late missed field goal.
By the numbers
0 Number of first downs the Falcons had in the first quarter.
1 Number of penalties on the Panthers (unnecessary roughness on Roman Harper). In 1997, the Panthers did not have a penalty against Green Bay.
9:05 Length of time the Panthers had possession during a first-quarter drive that produced a field goal on the first play of the second quarter.
19 Total return yards for Atlanta’s Devin Hester, who has tormented the Panthers through the years.
• “It is definitely up there, top two.” – Carolina cornerback Josh Norman on whether this was the Panthers’ toughest loss.
• “I knew (Gano) was going to miss it or it was going to get blocked.” – Atlanta cornerback Desmond Trufant.
• “Sometimes you look at (Carolina) and you know it’s not what the statistics say. … They’ve been a little bit like us. Their Achilles’ heel has been giving up big plays.” – Atlanta coach Mike Smith.