CHARLOTTE — Mike Adams was involved in perhaps the two biggest plays of the Carolina Panthers’ 20-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
One play involved skill and experience.
The other involved luck, but it turned out just as well.
So the 14-year veteran strong safety couldn’t have been happier after the Panthers beat their second NFC South divisional rival in two weeks and raised their record to 6-3.
“We feel great,” Adams said. “The mentality now is to just keep it going. We wish we could get back a couple of games that we lost earlier, but now we’ve just got to keep it moving. We’ve got bigger fish to fry now. It’s halfway through the season and anything can happen. Being healthy is one, and two is you’ve got to peak at the right time.”
The two key plays?
Adams intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and had a 40-yard return to the Atlanta 29 shortly before halftime, and the Panthers parlayed that into a Cam Newton touchdown run with 23 seconds left in the half for a 14-10 halftime lead. Before the pick, the Panthers seemed almost certain to go to the locker room at halftime trailing.
The Panthers would not relinquish the lead the rest of the afternoon.
But they did need some luck, and that’s where Adams must have had a horse shoe in his pocket.
The Falcons trailed 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, and Adams bit on a fake from Ryan. Julio Jones wound up all alone in the end zone, with Adams at least 20 yards away, but Jones dropped the sure touchdown and the Panthers took over on downs.
The interception, said Adams, came from the experience he has garnered during a career that has seen him play with San Francisco, Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, and now his first year with the Panthers. Adams was covering tight end Austin Hooper in the flat, and as Hooper slipped, Adams found himself in the right spot at the right time.
“It’s huge to score before the half,” Adams said. “It was a huge momentum swing because they were driving. They had had a big play previous to that with Julio. So it was definitely a momentum shifter.
“They ran that play earlier and he was open. I knew he was open, and I knew they were going to come back to that play. I told the coaches they were going to come back to it. So it was perfect timing with less than two minutes because, sure enough, they came back to it. And I just jumped it.”
Fellow safety Kurt Coleman said that Adams was “just a great asset to this team.” The 40-yard return set the Panthers up at the Atlanta 31-yard line. Newton scored four plays later.
“The pick by Mike was a game-changer,” Coleman said. “You need those momentum swings. It gave the offense a short field right before the half. You need those game-changers, and we were able to deliver for our offense.”
The snafu against Jones came when Adams bit on a move and tried to jump the route, only to see Jones head to the end zone. The Falcons faced fourth-and-9 from the Carolina 39 at the time, and Ryan hit Jones right in the breadbasket. The Falcons would cut the margin to three two possessions later, but it was too little, too late at that point.
“That was totally on me,” Adams said. “It was a total miscommunication, and I’ve got to be smarter than that. They ran that play earlier, just like they ran the tight end play earlier, and when they ran the play earlier I jumped it, and Ryan wound up double pumping and we got a sack out of it. They came back to it and knew that I was going to jump it again, and they went up top. But, he dropped it. Which is unusual, but I’ll take it.”
Adams has now had two interceptions in the past two games. He also had a pick at a crucial moment in the Panthers’ 17-3 win at Tampa Bay last week.
“We said as a defense, we’ve got to step our game up,” Adams said. “Turnovers are huge. Getting picks and all that stuff, so it was a great play by our line rushing, and I was able to get a jump on the ball.”