CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Kyle Allen bandwagon is beginning to empty in Carolina.
The Panthers’ second-year quarterback who started his NFL career with five straight victories has suddenly stumbled upon tough times, losing three of his past four starts while throwing nine interceptions during that span.
On Sunday, he had his worst performance yet, throwing a career-high four picks while taking five sacks in a 29-3 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at home.
But with Cam Newton on injured reserve, the Panthers (5-5) are stuck with Allen the rest of the way - and coach Ron Rivera said he’s willing to stick with him, knowing there will be a lot of growing pains in the second half of this season.
“I’m not concerned about Kyle’s learning curve,” Rivera said. “... He’s a young quarterback who is going to make young mistakes. But that is why you put him out there. We’re going to live with his learning pains because that is what the game is all about.”
Rivera said he’s confident Allen will get better.
But first, he said, Allen needs to learn that he can’t do it alone and has to rely more on his teammates. Twice Allen forced throws into coverage deep in Atlanta territory, leading to a pair of interceptions.
Allen said his performance boiled down to “poor decision-making.”
“Three interceptions in the first half put us in a horrible position,” Allen said. “I think it’s just poor decision-making. I’ve talked about this before. Turnovers are not going to give us any chance to win. My decision-making has to get better.”
Allen said for him that means spending more time in the film room and simply playing more.
This was only his ninth NFL start, so he’s still young.
And maybe Allen was a victim of his early success.
He spoiled Carolina fans by going four games without an interception this season - although he did turn the ball over on five fumbles. But in the past four games Allen has thrown nine interceptions, meaning he has 14 turnovers and 10 touchdown passes on the season.
The same fans that were calling for the Panthers to cut or trade Newton after the season and save $19 million under the 2020 salary cap are probably now wondering how quickly the franchise’s all-time leading passer might recover from a foot injury that ended his season.
That’s because the jury is still very much out on Allen and whether he can be the team’s quarterback of the future.
Carolina drafted Will Grier in the third round, but the team isn’t sure if he’s ready to play yet.
“We are not winning these games because the turnover differential is not in our favor the last four games or so,” Allen said. I’m not putting the team in position to win.”
Tight end Greg Olsen said the game “kind of snowballed” on Allen.
But Olsen quickly added that the entire offense shares blame, calling the game a “comedy of terrible football.”
“Obviously we all had our fair share of moments,” Olsen said. “When you have a game like that offensively, when you score three points, any guy who stepped on the field offensively shares the blame. Quarterbacks are always the focal point, and that’s just the way the league is, but anybody who played offense for us today did a bad job.”
Except Christian McCaffrey, perhaps.
McCaffrey continues to be a bright spot for the Panthers, racking up 191 yards from scrimmage. He would easily eclipsed 200 yards had several plays called back because of holding penalties.
Rivera said Allen could certainly use some help - and he pointed directly at the team’s offensive line, which has started a rookie at left tackle for most of the season. First it was Dennis Daley. On Sunday, it was Greg Little in the starting lineup.
“We have to be able to protect him and it was unfortunate we didn’t protect the quarterback the way we are capable of,” Rivera said. “We have too many good football players who have to do a better job.”
Things won’t get easier for Allen
Next Sunday he makes a trip to one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL - the Louisiana Superdome - to face the division-leading Saints.
“Learn from this,” Allen said. “Just have to go back and look at the film and understand exactly what happened and try not to repeat the mistakes.”
Cornerback Isaiah Oliver can’t explain the Falcons’ dramatic turnaround the past two weeks on defense.
But he said it’s a little bittersweet.
“This was the defense we expected to be playing from the start of the season,” Oliver said.
If they had, things might be different this season for the Falcons.
Atlanta had one of the worst defenses in the league the first eight games of the season, which played a big role in a 1-7 start. But over the past two weeks the Falcons have been nothing short of dominant, allowing just four field goals and no touchdowns.
On Sunday, Atlanta intercepted Kyle Allen four times and sacked him five times, Kenjon Barner returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown and the Falcons defeated the Carolina Panthers 29-3 for their second straight lopsided win against an NFC South foe.
The Falcons upset the Saints 26-9 the week before.
The Falcons (3-7) had only two interceptions all season - and none since Week 2 against the Eagles - but intercepted Allen three times in the first half to build a 20-0 lead.
Oliver said the exasperating thing is the Falcons aren’t doing anything different defensively the past two weeks since returning from the bye week.
“Defensively, we have the same players on the field, we’re calling the same calls we have been calling, running the same defense - it’s just working better, honestly,” Oliver said. “Guys are communicating more and getting to the ball quicker. But in terms of the schemes, everything is the same.”
For Matt Ryan, it was business as usual against the Panthers.
Ryan improved to 7-1 in his past eight starts against Carolina, throwing for 311 yards including a 6-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley.
Ridley found huge holes in the Carolina defense, finishing with eight catches for 143 yards and rookie Qadree Ollison added a 2-yard TD run for the Falcons, who won despite playing without running back Devonta Freeman and tight end Austin Hooper.
The Panthers (5-5) appear to be headed in the other direction.
They have lost three of their past four games with Allen under center, who is suddenly struggling with turnovers.
The second-year QB has thrown nine interceptions in the past four games, after not throwing any in his first four career starts. He spent most of the game under heavy duress, as the Panthers offensive line racked up holding penalties nullifying big gains.
“He’s a good young football player, and he’s done some really good things for us,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Allen. “But today he got overwhelmed.”
Allen said it boiled down to “poor decision-making” on his part.
He didn’t get much help. Along with the lack of pass protection, the Panthers were penalized eight times for 68 yards which prevented them from mustering any momentum on offense.
Panthers veteran tight end Greg Olsen called his team’s performance a “comedy of terrible football.”
"We stunk. We played terrible,” Olsen said. “We got beat in all aspects of the game. Penalties, turnovers, drops - it was like every single drive. It's impossible to play football like that.”
The Falcons dominated in every phase of the game, including special teams.
Barner, who was drafted by the Panthers in 2013, gave Atlanta the boost it needed when he fielded Michael Palardy’s punt and weaved his way up the field, picking up blockers along the way en route to an early 10-0 lead. It was the first punt return allowed by the Panthers since 2016.
Palardy appeared to outkick his coverage.
“I had a motorcade in front of me,” Barner said with a laugh. “Our guys did a great job of blocking.”
Christian McCaffrey finished with 191 yards from scrimmage but failed to score for the first time since Week 2. Still, he passed LaDainian Tomlinson (238) for the most receptions by a running back in his first three NFL seasons.
Trailing 26-0 late in the game, Rivera elected to go for a field goal instead of a touchdown.
“You don’t want to get shutout, especially at home,” Rivera said. “So you kick the field goal and take the points. At the end of the day at least you can keep your head up over something.”
Falcons: Takk McKinley injured his shoulder on a first-half sack of Allen and did not return.
Falcons: Host Buccaneers on Sunday.
Panthers: Visit Saints on Sunday.
© 2020 Associated Press