Fewell will lead Panthers vs. Falcons, but dynamics of game won’t change

When the Buffalo Bills fired Dick Jauron in 2009, Perry Fewell coached against the Falcons as the interim head coach.

Fewell, a long-time defensive backs coach in the NFL, will be the interim head coach for the Panthers (5-7) when they face the Falcons (3-9) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

In the 15th game of the regular season in 2009, the Falcons defeated Fewell and the Bills 31-3 to improve to 8-7. The next week, with a win over Tampa Bay, they secured the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history.

Panthers owner David Tepper fired Ron Rivera on Tuesday with four games to play.

The Panthers, started the season 4-2, but have lost five of their past six games, including a 29-3 loss to the Falcons on Nov. 17.

“I believe this is the best decision for the long-term success of our team,” Panthers owner David Tepper said in a statement. “I have a great deal of respect for Ron and the contributions he has made to this franchise and to this community. I wish him the best. I will immediately begin the search for the next head coach of the Carolina Panthers.”

With Rivera gone, the Panthers moved their staff around, with veteran NFL coach Norv Turner becoming the special assistant to the head coach. Scott Turner, Norv Turner’s son, will take over as offensive coordinator.

Tepper let it be known that he wasn’t happy with the direction of the team, and last week’s loss at home to Washington helped push him to making a major change.

In Rivera’s defense, the team played only two games with quarterback Cam Newton. The former league MVP has been out with a foot injury.

In Newton’s place, the Panthers have used Kyle Allen, who was undrafted after playing in college at Texas A&M and Houston.

In eight-plus seasons, Rivera was 76-63-1 and took the team to the playoffs four times. The Panthers won the NFC title in 2015 season before losing to the Broncos in Super Bowl 50. He won three NFC South titles.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is the favorite to replace Rivera, according to betonline.ag, followed by Dallas coach Jason Garrett and New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Fewell, 57, who was the secondary coach, first started coaching in the NFL in 1998 under Tom Coughlin at Jacksonville. He also has been an assistant coach with the Rams, Bears, Bills, Giants and Redskins.

The dynamics of Sunday’s game likely will not change much.

The Panthers have a porous run defense that gave up 248 yards rushing in the 29-21 loss to Washington on Sunday. The Panthers have allowed 137.5 yard rushing per game, which ranks 29th out of 32 in the league.

However, in the previous matchup, the Panthers kept safety Eric Reid near the line of scrimmage and held the Falcons to 54 yards rushing on 26 carries. The Falcons have not rushed for more than 73 yards in eight games.

The Falcons, who have rushed for more than 100 yards only twice this season, average 74.3 yards rushing per game, which ranks 30th in the league.

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman did not play in the previous game.

“Of course, we’d like to be balanced on first and second down,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “We’d like to run the ball more efficiently and more explosively. We’d like to, if we take more advantage of our opportunities, that are presented to us earlier in the game. Hopefully we are not down two scores, and we can stay with the running game.”

With the Panthers stalking the Falcons’ rushing attack, wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley were free to do damage. They combined to catch 14 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown.

Also, the defense was opportunistic, recording four interceptions, including three inside Carolina’s red zone.

The Panthers’ offense has revolved around running back Christian McCaffrey, who has rushed 235 times for 1,167 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s also caught 75 passes for 644 yards and four touchdowns.

“Any division game is always a great challenge,” Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “We know they are going to come out aggressive and try to get a win. We just have to lock in on the details. On the back end, when they challenge us, we just have to make our plays.”

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones will shadow McCaffrey at times.

“McCaffrey out of the backfield, he catches a lot of passes,” Trufant said. “We have to do our part and do what we can to try to get a win.”

Rivera met with the Charlotte media Monday and didn’t seem overly concerned about his job.

But Tepper had other plans.

“We are going to take a comprehensive and thorough review of our football operation to make sure we are structured for long-term sustained success,” Tepper said. “Our vision is to find the right mix of old-school discipline and toughness with modern and innovative processes. We will consider a wide range of football executives to complement our current football staff.”

The Panthers plan to hire an assistant general manager and vice president of football operations.


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