Panthers express respect for Falcons D

Although his words drew a chuckle or two from reporters listening to the conference call, Cam Newton sounded serious when he praised the Atlanta Falcons' defense.

"One thing that doesn’t go unnoticed is how stout this defense is," the Carolina Panthers quarterback said Wednesday. Newton even attempted to back his claim with a statistic he seemed to have rehearsed before addressing the media.

"I think there’s an interesting stat that was brought up today, how these guys – don’t be fooled by the record – these guys have only [given] up three points in the first quarter," Newton said of the Falcons. "And one thing that we have to … we feel one of the keys to winning is starting fast.

"These guys on defense [have] only given up three points, which goes to tell you that these guys are not just a slouch or just not a heavily offensive team."

Newton’s statistic was on point. Indeed, the Falcons are one of two teams to have surrendered fewer than 10 first-quarter points this season. The other? The Panthers, who have allowed just five first-quarter points through seven games.

But Newton didn’t mention how the Falcons have won the time-of-possession battle in the first quarter of all seven games, including decisive edges against the Dolphins (12:48 to 2:12), Rams (9:20 to 5:40) and Jets (9:11 to 5:49). Newton also didn’t mention how the Falcons have allowed a total of 81 points in second quarters this season, just four points fewer than the lowly Jaguars have given up in the second quarters of their eight losses.

The Falcons enter Sunday’s game against the Panthers ranked 22nd or lower in 11 key defensive categories, including 22nd in points allowed per game (26.3). Still, both Newton and Panthers coach Ron Rivera have respect for the Falcons due to that low first-quarter scoring figure.

"My understanding is, they give up three points in the first quarter, and that’s it," Rivera repeated. "There’s a lot of fight to these guys. And they’ve got playmakers on the defensive side. They’re an opportunistic defense. They’re trying to create takeaways. We’ve got to be on our game against these guys."

We’ll see if that first-quarter statistic matters at all come Sunday. And, for the record, the Panthers have scored 31 first-quarter points this season, while the Falcons have scored 44.