CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Panthers need to avoid another slow start Sunday to have a better chance of upending the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons.
That's something they haven't done this season.
The Panthers haven't shown up ready to play and have allowed opponent to score a touchdown on the opening possession in all three games. The Panthers (1-2) recovered in Week 2 to beat New Orleans, but never led in losses to Tampa Bay and the New York Giants.
Linebacker Thomas Davis said Carolina needs to come out with "better intensity" early against the 3-0 Falcons. Davis says the Georgia Dome is particularly loud and falling behind only makes winning there more difficult.
"We have to understand the situation and know that we need to go out and set the tone early and not try to wait until the second series," said Davis, who's expected to play this week after missing last week's game against the Giants with a hamstring injury. "We have to go out and jump on these guys."
But stopping Matt Ryan and the Falcons won't be easy. Atlanta has scored on its opening possession in its three wins.
"I think that good execution coming out of the gate," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "I think (offensive coordinator) Dirk Koetter has done a good job of calling the plays and getting us prepared for those situations. That's one thing we've done well. I think there are other areas where we haven't been as efficient as we need to be. I think our focus this week is to try and improve in those other areas."
Poor execution has plagued the Panthers defense all year on opening drives, particularly on third down.
The Panthers allowed the Saints, Bucs and Giants to convert a combined six third-down conversions on opening drives with two of those resulting in touchdown passes to tight ends. Drew Brees hit Jimmy Graham for a 1-yard touchdown pass and Eli Manning found Martellus Bennett for a 14-yard strike.
"Any of those stops on third down allow you get off the field," coach Ron Rivera said. "We have to be better than that — and I'm aware of that. It happened the other day and I made a comment about it. Hopefully we're paying attention and we learn from those situations."
Third down hasn't been a problem for the Falcons.
They haven't even needed to execute a third down on their opening possessions this season.
"Dirk always says that if stay out of third downs, then you don't have to complete them," Falcons wide receiver Roddy White said. "Just staying ahead of the chains. I think we're doing a good job of play-calling on first and second down, and Dirk's doing a heck of a job just being aggressive, getting us chunks down the field. I think every time we get chunks down the field and get some explosives on those drives, we're going down and scoring points."
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