Bridgewater, Panthers surging as they face reeling Falcons
ATLANTA (AP) - With Teddy Bridgewater showing promise as a long-term replacement for Cam Newton and Mike Davis thriving as a short-term replacement for Christian McCaffrey, the Carolina Panthers at NFC South are a surprise.
It's exactly the kind of resilience that has escaped the Atlanta Falcons, who were unable to recover from a string of injuries in their 4-0 start into the NFC South rivalry game on Sunday.
Led by Bridgewater's exact pass, the Panthers (2-2) have won two games in a row. Bridgewater has completed 73% of its passes, the third best in the NFL. He refutes doubters who may have thought he was being outdone in a Division Falcon coach, Dan Quinn, named "Quarterback South."
With Tampa Bay's signing of Tom Brady, NFC South received three of the league's top ten passers-by. Drew Brees, Brady, and Atlanta's Matt Ryan are on that list, while Bridgewater, the former backup of Brees in New Orleans, was just trying to prove he could play a starting role.
Bridgewater's accuracy makes the Panthers win. The matchup with the Fighting Hawks provides an opportunity to increase his modest total of just four TD passes. Atlanta has allowed 13 touchdown passes, most of them in the NFL.
An already injured secondary hawk must overcome the loss of safety for Damontae Kazee, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris is hoping for a defensive end for Takk McKinley and possibly the safety of Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen this week.
"We have to survive better, move forward and play the right way," said Morris.
Carolina's young defense starting three newbies is on the upswing.
After allowing 67 points in the first two games and not getting a sack, the Panthers gave up 37 points in the last two games. The unit begins to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Brian Burns remains Carolina's top pass rusher, but rookie Yetur Gross-Matos had a big sack fumble last week that resulted in a touchdown.
"I thought the defense really got into playing hard and fast," said Carolina coach Matt Ruhle. "I'm starting to hear people across the league like, 'Hey, I saw your tape, you guys are flying around,' It's a credit to our players. '
QUINN HOPING FOR TURNAROUND
Injuries played a major role in the Atlanta defense regression, which improved in the second half of the 2019 season. The Falcons won their last four games last season to save coach Dan Quinn's job. Quinn's job status is again the subject of weekly speculation.
Quinn hopes a turnaround will begin with Atlanta's top division game.
"Honestly, it really comes down to us and all of the things we have to do," said Quinn. "We have to stop hitting ourselves."
FULL DOSE FROM DAVIS
Davis should be busy with Reggie Bonnafon coming to McCaffrey with an injured reserve, each with a high ankle sprain. Davis has 202 yards to scrimmage and two touchdowns since replacing McCaffrey. Davis has 21 catches on 23 goals for 146 yards and a touchdown. Carolina's only other experienced return is Trenton Cannon.
SEARCH FOR HELP
The Hawks signed the J.J. Wilcox to the training team that gives depth. It's a return for Wilcox, who signed with the Falcons last year before spending the season with an injured reserve. The security team released Jamal Carter from the training team on Wednesday.
Safety Ricardo Allen (elbows) and Keanu Neal (hamstrings) and rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell (COVID-19 reserve list) was detained in the 30:16 loss in Green Bay Monday evening. Terrell was activated for the active squad on Thursday but his status for the game is uncertain.
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard (thigh) is also out while Jaylinn Hawkins recovers from a concussion.
D.J. Moore was expected to be Carolina's No. 1 recipient this season, but Robby Anderson, who was selected as a free agent, was more productive with two 100-yard games. Anderson added 99 more against the Cardinals last week. His 377 yards received are sixth most in the NFL.
"Robby is just one of those guys, he comes in, he doesn't say anything, he's all football," said Bridgewater. "He understands that he is here for a reason and has worked for us at a high level."
Julio Jones missed the second half against Green Bay after sustaining a hamstring injury that missed him against Chicago last week. Jones has found a way to play games in the past after missing practice time due to injury, but finds that playing through that hamstring injury is difficult.
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