In a vastly improved performance, the Panthers still show no sign of a killer instinct.
On with the grades:
Overall the offense performed well enough to win the game given an adequate defense. Cam Newton returned to his inspiring form and Greg Olsen emerged as a real threat for other defenses to worry about. Even Armanti Edwards looked great in his one reception, bursting for a first down on a screen. The Panthers collectively ran for 199 yards, exposing the Falcons' biggest weakness.
Offensive Grade: B
As improved as the offense was, the defense was even more so. It was refreshing to see pressure being applied to Matt Ryan early and often. Open field tackling is still sub par, players relying on a big bit more than wrapping up. This should be a very fixable issue, but is a lingering hindrance.
Overall, the execution of the defense was adequate. Their weakness is still giving up the big passing play, which won't change until more talent is developed or acquired at the free safety position.
Luke Kuechly, despite recent uninformed fan opinion, is a star in the making. The Panthers coaching staff surely are considering starting him in the middle where he can have the biggest impact. He is currently our best linebacker.
Defensive Grade: B
The biggest problem I have with the coaching is the lack of an overall killer instinct.
On offense, the Panthers went into "run the clock" mode with a slim lead and over three minutes left on the clock. Against an explosive offense in their own house, this is a losing proposition. Can we please rip out the wildcat pages of the playbook and burn them? I don't recall it ever working, and certainly don't recall it working with 9 falcons in the box.
On Defense, the Panthers backed off the pressure being applied and gave Matt Ryan plenty of time to pick apart the Panthers biggest weakness. Again, no killer instinct. Josh Norman not understanding keeping the Falcons in the field of play late is not entirely his fault, that is on the coaching staff.
In short, as soon as the Panthers play "not to lose", longtime fans brace for a letdown. The Panthers need their teeth in a fight, the coaching staff needs to stop pulling them.
The coaching staff appears to be the weakest link in the organization. If I can see it, I am positive Jerry Richardson can see it. Rivera just may not be cut out for a head coaching job in this league. If the Panthers fail to win a few games soon... he may not last the season.
Coaching Grade: C-