November 25, 2002
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Michael Vick scanned Carolina's sideline Sunday and saw heads hanging. He pointed this out to his Atlanta teammates and told them it was time to pounce.
The Falcons did, racking up eight sacks and forcing six turnovers in a 41-0 win over Carolina that moved them past the Saints into second in the NFC South.
"It was like 21-0, and the Panthers had this empty look in their eyes, like they knew it was over and hopeless, and they weren't coming back," Vick said. "We were in the huddle and I said, "Let's go out and finish these guys.' "
Vick's pep talk probably wasn't even necessary.
"I think its fairly evident we're not a very good football team when we play the Atlanta Falcons," said coach John Fox, whose Panthers have lost eight straight after a 3-0 start. "Basically, I told (the team) that I was ashamed of our performance, and they ought to be, too."
Atlanta won the other meeting 30-0 on Oct. 20. It's the first time a team has shut out an opponent twice in a season since 1976, when Denver blanked San Diego 26-0 and 17-0.
Vick threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns, Warrick Dunn scored twice and Atlanta had 426 yards. The defense had four interceptions and recovered two fumbles.
The outcome was clear so early that Vick spent the fourth quarter celebrating on the sideline with new team owner Arthur Blank.
"That was as close to a perfect game as you can possibly play," cornerback Ray Buchanan said.
The loss capped a tumultuous week for Carolina's increasingly troubled franchise.
Starting right tackle Chris Terry was waived after he missed a court appearance on a misdemeanor charge of assaulting his wife. Then leading receiver and All-Pro kick returner Steve Smith was suspended and jailed briefly for beating up teammate Anthony Bright so badly that Bright was hospitalized two days. Brentson Buckner has been suspended for violating the league's list of banned substances and rookie Julius Peppers is appealing a suspension under the same policy.
Fox said the issues were not a distraction, but Buchanan said it's impossible for a team not to be affected by such turmoil.
"As a veteran player, I know that stuff gets inside a team's head," Buchanan said.
Carolina struggled behind three quarterbacks and had the ball just more than 20 minutes.
Keion Carpenter was alone when he intercepted Rodney Peete and returned it 41 yards for a 7-0 Atlanta lead. When Brad Hoover fumbled after a catch, Vick didn't wait long to strike, tossing a 31-yard score to Dunn for a 14-0 lead.