...although Fox's announcers would like for you to think it is. According to them, the fact that Carolina lost to Atlanta signifies "a major shift in the NFC South." (I apologize for not remembering who the announcers were.)
Mind you, the Panthers lost their opening game of the season last year to the New Orleans Saints. I don't think that loss lead to a major shift in the NFC South. Come on, folks. It's the first game of the season. In fact, the Panthers have now lost their past three season openers--all at home. This isn't college football. You can lose some games along the way without sending your season into the oblivion of meaninglessness.
Furthermore, it's not like the Panthers looked awful in the pre-season. But since everyone seems to have picked Carolina as their Super Bowl favorites, the Panthers are going to have to deal with the fact that every blemish on their record is going to be overly scrunitnized.
With that being said, I was disappointed by the 20-6 loss. Atlanta's offense, lead by Warrick Dunn, had their way with the Panthers' defensive line. Carolina's offensive line couldn't figure out how to stop Falcon offseason acquisition John Abraham. I could go on and on, but the main theme is this: the Falcons looked like they were ready to play, and the Panthers didn't.
It's true that the Panthers were playing without Steve Smith, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Had he played, he might have been able to electrify the offense. But I'm not going to dismiss this loss as something that happened because Smith didn't play. Yes, I'd like him to get healthy as soon as possible so he can get on the field. But although he's the Panthers #1 offensive weapon, he's certainly not the only one. The Panthers are talented enough to run a good offense without Smith, although they are more talented with him.
In summary: Today's loss doesn't really mean much. And don't blame Smith's injury for it.
As always, and perhaps more annoying than the Panthers performance, was the fact that the game was on Fox. Let's list some of the more interesting aspects of the broadcast:
1) On more than one occasion, the cameraman in charge of following the ball failed to do so.
2) On at least one occassion, the person in charge of adding the "down/to go" arrow graphics displayed the wrong information.
3) Near the beginning of the game, Carolina linebacker (and former Georgia Bulldog) Thomas Davis was called for a late hit. The crowd started booing. One of the announcers commented that this was probably the first time Davis had been booed in Georgia. Apparantly that guy isn't too good at geography, as the game took place in Charlotte. I can pick apart his statement even further, but I'll spare you.
4) Sound level issues.
5) Once the Falcons-Panthers game ended, the Jaguars-Cowboys came on. On at least one occasion, one of the announcers (mind you, different announcers) referred to the Cowboys as the Panthers.
Oh, the joys of watching football on Fox.