The Falcons’ defense had to hold on until the bitter end.
The unit, which was trying to replace Pro Bowl defenders Keanu Neal and Deion Jones, suffered another blow when promising young safety Damontae Kazee was ejected for unnecessary roughness in the second quarter of Sunday's 31-24 win over the Panthers.
Kazee appeared to have time to go over the top of a sliding Panthers quarterback Cam Newton or touch him down. He instead hit Newton with his helmet. Kazee is likely looking at another fine from the league office. He had an issue with helmet-to-helmet hits in the preseason.
Atlanta Falcons safety Damontae Kazee was ejected for unnecessary roughness at 12:14 of the second quarter. #CARvsATL pic.twitter.com/6VV23IgZiq— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) September 16, 2018
“On the sideline, they said as he began to slide, (Kazee) went down and it was a helmet-to-helmet hit that he could have avoided,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “I actually did not see the play. I have not seen it on replay yet.
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“It sounded like everybody supported the call. We’ve got work to do in that area. (Kazee) is one that is working on it.”
Newton was not happy with the hit and called it a “cheap shot.”
“It’s self-explanatory,” Newton said when asked about Kazee’s hit. “What needed to happen, happened.”
After the Kazee hit, there was a minor skirmish. Carolina wide receiver Torrey Smith was penalized for unnecessary roughness for shoving Kazee. Newton was checked for a concussion, but quickly returned and did not miss a play.”
“If you ask me, it was a malicious hit intended to hurt him,” Carolina wide receiver Jarius Wright said. “I don’t know what they talked about in their locker room. It wasn’t right. It’s not right to be an NFL player – you know he’s a quarterback, you know he’s going to slide – to dive at a guy like that.”
The Falcons opened with Kazee playing free safety. Ricardo Allen played closer to the line of scrimmage at strong safety for the injured Neal.
After Kazee was ejected for unnecessary roughness, Jordan Richards went in at strong safety and Allen went back to his free safety spot.
The Falcons didn’t see Kazee’s hit as a cheapshot.
“Aw man, I kind of know where he’s coming from on that one because Cam is such a big guy,” Allen said. “The first thing you probably think about is ‘cut him down’, big trees you have to cut them down. And I think he had already committed to the tackle when Cam slid, so it was kind of like in the midst of a play.”
The Falcons loves Kazee’s striking and hitting ability. They have been working with him to get his head out of tackles, but he’s having trouble breaking his old habits.
“You always try to teach players to get over the top of quarterbacks, and you don’t really want to take that blow,” Allen said. “You can tell he didn’t mean to do it, but it was in the middle of him already engaging into his contact and then Cam slid at the last minute.”
The Falcons played a lot of zone coverage and elected to come up and tackle, while conceding some underneath passes.
Allen had a shot at a deep interception, but couldn’t haul in the pass.
Richards had a stop on Christian McCaffrey in the middle of the field, but couldn’t get him down.
On a blitz, Newton tossed the ball out to his right and cornerback Desmond Trufant dropped the potential interception.
Trufant did some push-ups to atone for the missed opportunity.
Allen came up an interception in the fourth quarter and had a nifty 26-yard return.
In addition to the jumbled secondary, Duke Riley started at middle linebacker for Jones. Jones and linebacker DeVondre Campbell led the Falcons with nine tackles.
“After I got warmed up and got in a rhythm, I felt like I was communicating well,” Riley said. “I have a long way to go. It’s just a start. I’m happy we got the W. ... Overall, we have a lot to work on. That’s the beauty of it.”
Kazee was making his start NFL start.
“For him, his effort is on point, I know we can get the technique part right,” Quinn said.
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