One of the primary reasons the Carolina Panthers have lost three of their last five games is because of their offensive struggles in the red zone.
The Panthers rank dead last in the NFC in touchdown percentage once reaching their opponents' 20-yard line, converting just 13 of 35 attempts (37.1 percent) into seven points. To put that number in perspective, the Kansas City Chiefs have converted 73 percent (27 of 37) of their red zone opportunities into six points.
One of the primary problems is Carolina's passing game, which tends to disappear.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme is completing less than 50 percent (34-of-82) of his passes in the red zone with six touchdowns.
Wide Receivers Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad, in particular, have been notably absent.
Muhammad has just four catches in the red zone for 32 yards and one touchdown, while Smith has just two receptions for 17 yards and one score.
"We aren't getting it done," Delhomme said. "We're killing ourselves, plain and simple. We need to get it done. How you get it done is to keep working at it in practice and make good decisions. We have to get back to work and get on a roll. Sometimes they come in bunches and hopefully that can start soon."
Stephen Davis, who is averaging 4.7 yards per carry this season, is averaging just 2.4 yards in the red zone. Although he has seven rushing touchdowns, he's also fumbled twice.
"What we have to do is make the plays," Davis said. "They are there, we just have to make them. We don't need any drastic changes (to the game plan), we just have to make the plays."
The red zone woes have stood out more this past Sunday than in weeks past in part because of the kicker John Kasay's struggles.
Kasay missed three of four field goals and an extra point in Sunday's 25-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, including two kicks from inside 33 yards. Those 10 points would have been the difference in the game. And, in all likelihood, the focus this week would have been on the Panthers getting their first winning season since 1996 instead of losing back-to-back games for the first time this season.
But Kasay's misses only highlight a problem that has haunted the Panthers for much of the season.
Last week, the Panthers reached the Eagles' 30-yard line on four of their first five possessions but came away with just three points.
Of the four failed drives, three resulted in missed field goals by Kasay and the other came when the Panthers turned the ball over on downs after failing to pick up a first down on fourth-and-one from the 8-yard line. Carolina did score two touchdowns on passes of 24 and 23 yards by Delhomme in the second half.
"If you look at it, you can put the blame on me because that means we're not getting the ball in the end zone" said Delhomme. "As the quarterback, you need to get the ball in the end zone any way, shape or form and any fashion. We didn't get points, plain and simple. Field goals are nice, but you have to win scoring touchdowns in this league."
SERIES HISTORY: 18th meeting. Falcons lead series 11-6. The Panthers snapped a six-game losing streak to the Falcons with 23-3 over Atlanta on Sept. 28. Stephen Davis ran for 153 yards and one touchdown.
--Panthers head coach John Fox said the idea that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7) may not make the playoffs is a testament to how tough it is to win in the NFL on a consistent basis.
"As I've said all season, whether it's after wins or losses, it's a very, very competitive league," Fox said. "It's the way it's set up. It's the way it's designed, and each week, regardless of record or regardless of venue, it's tough to win in this league.
"That's why, I think all your focus needs to be on that particular game and not behind you or ahead of you. That's the approach we're going to take."
--It no longer appears imminent that wide receiver Kevin Dyson will see action this season. Fox said the Panthers don't have a spot for him on their 46-man game day roster right now.
"I see good progress, but he's got Muhsin Muhammad in front of him, Ricky Proehl in front of him and Steve Smith in front of him. And the fourth guy (Karl Hankton) plays special teams," Fox said. "So right now, he's kind of where he is."
Dyson is trying to make it back on the field after tearing an Achilles tendon in the June minicamp. He's on the 53-man roster, but has been deactivated the last two weeks.
BY THE NUMBERS: 16 -- Average yards per catch by wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, third best in the NFL.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You get frustrated losing two big-time games. Everything was set for us to go out and do what we wanted to do and establish ourselves and we didn't do it both times." -- Panthers safety Mike Minter on losing back-to-back games to Dallas and Philadelphia, two of the NFC's top teams.