Sunday afternoon was like a waking nightmare for the Panthers’ secondary, whose battered members may in their sleep find visions of Julio Jones in their heads. Upon review, they won’t see the Falcons wide receiver dancing.
Think drag racing with a football. Jones ran free frequently in the Georgia Dome on the way to a franchise-record 300 yards on 12 receptions. The Panthers probably would rather not see Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan any time soon, either, after he passed for a franchise-record 503 yards.
Julio had help in racking up more receiving yardage than Carolina had ever allowed, and a lot of it came from the Panthers as they were whipped 48-33.
“Everything we planned, everything we wanted to do, didn’t work,” said Carolina cornerback Bene Benwikere. “We had a scheme. We had things we wanted to do. It kind of fell apart.”
Atlanta’s first three plays were passes to Jones for 22, 14 and 15 yards.
Carolina rookie cornerback James Bradberry was whipped on the first play, and had a bad feeling right away. It got worse quickly when he sprained a big toe and left the game until the fourth quarter.
“Definitely,” he said. “You start the first play going to Julio, and I knew right from then they were going to keep going to him.”
Ryan did, although he also completed 203 yards worth of passes to Jones’ teammates.
Jones said that he saw a lot more man-to-man coverage than he often does, and Bradberry said Carolina’s plan for Jones, “wasn’t anything special.”
Carolina head coach Ron Rivera had no better explanation.
“We thought we had a good plan coming in, and we tried to cover him and do some different things and apparently it didn’t pan out,” Rivera said. “Credit to him.”
Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly rarely found himself near Jones – few Panthers did – although he tipped a ball that Jones caught.
Asked whether Sunday was proof that the Panthers should not have rescinded the franchise tag on Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman in April, allowing him to sign with the Redskins, Kuechly said, “That’s for you guys to talk about. We’ve got a lot of confidence in our guys and what they can do in James, Daryl (Worley) and Bene. I’ll take these guys every day.”