A new era begins for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday as interim coach Perry Fewell leads the team into an NFC South matchup at the Atlanta Falcons. Fewell was promoted from his role as the defensive backs coach to replace Ron Rivera, who was fired Tuesday after nearly nine seasons.
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Panthers ownership says they made the move midseason so they could begin searching for Rivera's full-time replacement, but Fewell hopes to show them the benefits of keeping the move in-house. It's Fewell's second stint as an interim head coach - he went 3-4 with Buffalo after taking over midway through the 2009 season. The Panthers have lost four straight and five of their last six, including a 29-3 home loss to Atlanta three weeks ago. The Falcons have dropped two straight since beating Carolina, falling at home to Tampa Bay and New Orleans to run their home losing streak to five games, but have won four consecutive meetings with the Panthers.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (5-7): Carolina's biggest issue during its losing streak has been an inability to hang onto the football. The Panthers have committed nine turnovers during their four-game skid and 13 over their past six contests, including four Kyle Allen interceptions in the first meeting with Atlanta. Carolina's other looming concern is an inability to stop the run as the Panthers have held only two of their 12 opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards, and gave up a season-high 248 yards on the ground in last week's 29-21 loss to Washington.
ABOUT THE FALCONS (3-9): After two straight convincing wins at New Orleans and Carolina, in which Atlanta committed only one turnover, the Falcons have reverted to their struggles in back-to-back home defeats. They coughed it up twice in a 35-22 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 12 and had three turnovers in last week's 26-18 loss to the Saints. The giveaways, which included two Matt Ryan interceptions, derailed one of the best performances of the season from Atlanta's defense, which limited a strong Saints offense to 279 total yards.
1. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey's 2,162 receiving yards are the most in history by a running back in his first three seasons.
2. Ryan needs 34 passing yards to become the 10th player in NFL history with 50,000.
3. Carolina WR D.J. Moore needs 20 receiving yards to record his first 1,000-yard season.