Funchess passes first test as Panthers No. 1 wide receiver
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Devin Funchess passed his first test as Carolina’s No. 1 wide receiver.
Thrust into the top receiver role after the Kelvin Benjamin trade, Funchess led the Panthers with five receptions for 86 yards in a 20-17 win over Atlanta and had the team’s two longest plays in the passing game, running after catches for gains of 24 and 33 yards.
“That’s what he can do,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “He can give you those yards after catch. He’s very savvy, and he’s just grown into that role and that’s what you love to see.”
The 86 yards are the second best of Funchess’ four-year career, behind only a 120-yard game against Tampa Bay during the 2015-16 season.
The two biggest plays from Funchess came on underneath routes with other receivers going deep. His 33-yarder got the Panthers into Atlanta territory on a third-quarter drive that resulted in Graham Gano’s 45-yard field goal and extended the Carolina lead to 20-10.
“I feel as if there are some things he can learn from, things that I can learn from being that he’s now at a more (prominent) position,” said Newton. “And we’re only going to get better.”
Newton likes the leadership he’s seen from Funchess, that he’s taken that role “by the horns.”
“We just go out there and try to make plays and get the ‘W’ on Sunday,” Funchess said. “It doesn’t matter who has the ball.”
Newton finished 13-of-24 passing for 137 yards, but the Panthers ran for a season-high 201 yards.
“I think the guys played their roles,” said Rivera. “We asked guys to go in and certain groups to do certain things.”
Things we learned from the Falcons-Panthers game on Sunday:
SHORT DOWN STRUGGLES: The Falcons are struggling to keep drives alive. They converted just four of 12 third downs and failed on all three fourth-down conversions against Carolina.
“Any time you can’t convert, it’s disappointing,” said Falcons coach Dan Quinn, whose team had won three straight against Carolina. “Especially when you have the play called, but can’t execute it. We wanted to attack. We wanted to stay aggressive. It’s disappointing not to convert there.”
RUN GAME STRUGGLES: The Falcons’ 1-2 punch of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman just isn’t hitting as hard as last season.
It’s been five games since the Falcons have had a 100-yard rushing day — Freeman’s 106-yard, one-score game at Detroit on Sept. 24. Atlanta won that game 30-26, but has lost four of five since to fall to 4-4 on the season.
Carolina limited Freeman to 46 yards on the ground, and 20 of those came on one run. Freeman had 5 yards rushing.
“That’s a plus for us,” Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love said. “He’s going to get yards. It’s kind of like Marshawn Lynch, you know he is going to get yards. You just have to be around and rally up. That’s what we did to him.”
Carolina entered the game fourth in the league against the run and hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. Atlanta’s next two opponents — Dallas (15th) and Seattle (20th) — present possible opportunities for the running game to get back on track.
OLD MEN CAN RUN: Panthers 36-year-old safety Mike Adams proved “old guys” can run. Adams intercepted a pass by Matt Ryan and returned in 40 yards to set up the Panthers’ go-ahead score in the second quarter.
“I think, personally, that was our turning point,” Panthers tight end Ed Dickson said. “We were sputtering, momentum was all in their favor. When he got that interception, I think that kind of changed it around a little bit.”
McCAFFREY’S BIG GAME: A week after running the ball four times for 3 yards, Panthers rookie Christian McCaffrey had career highs with 66 yards rushing on 15 carries. His increased role came after Jonathan Stewart turned the ball over twice on fumbles.
“It always starts with them,” said McCaffrey of his offensive line. “In the run game, they were opening up a lot of holes and doing a great job in protection. We go as they go.”
McCaffrey scored his first rushing touchdown as a pro, scoring on 4-yard run off an option pitch from Newton.
NEWTON RUNNING: Newton has now led the Panthers in rushing in four straight games, which is not exactly the formula the team prefers. But Rivera knows sometimes it’s hard to competitiveness out of the seventh-year quarterback.
Newton ran for 86 yards and a touchdown.
“He sees opportunities and he takes them,” Rivera said. “One of the naked (bootlegs) was really what he read. It wasn’t called. It was his decision and he made one hell of a decision on it. ”