Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

December 20, 2018 at 1:01 pm.

Falcons want to finish strong

A week ago, Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was focused on making sure his team paid attention to details. A week before they had made silly penalties and played poorly in a blowout loss to Green Bay and Quinn wanted to nip the issue in the bud.

The message was received and the team responded with a solid win over the Arizona Cardinals. Penalties were down, takeaways were up and the Falcons rolled.

Now, with two road games remaining in the season, will that trend continue this week against the Carolina Panthers?

“When your preparation is right and your focus matches it, we’re able to play like we like to,” Quinn said. “I like to see that carry over from week to week.”

Last week’s win broke a four-game losing streak and improved Atlanta’s record to 5-9. The Falcons have no shot at making the playoffs, but a win against the Panthers would mean they could finish second in the NFC South. A loss would leave Atlanta in position to finish no better than third in the division.

The club played better on defense last week and the return of middle linebacker Deion Jones has been a factor. Jones had a pick-six last week and has helped solidify the unit since his return.

“We don’t designate a captain, but he’s definitely someone who is in the middle of it on the field,” Quinn said. “For him being back in the lineup, that’s a strong indicator of his awareness of the football.”

The Falcons won’t be facing nemesis Cam Newton on Sunday. The Panthers decided this week to shut down Newton, who has struggled with a shoulder injury, and will start Taylor Heinicke, who has thrown only five passes in his two-year career.

That probably means more opportunities for Carolina to utilize running back Christian McCaffrey. He has rushed for 979 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 94 passes for 768 yards and six touchdowns.

“We have been impressed and he has our respect probably the most in space and his ability to change direction, probably the most is his ability to make guys miss,” Quinn said. “That’s what’s jumped out to me the most. He’s a difficult matchup to cover for sure.”

SERIES HISTORY: 48th regular-season meeting. Falcons lead series, 29-18. Falcons have won five of the last six meetings. Atlanta defeated the Panthers 31-24 in Week 2.