The Atlanta Falcons suffered their first shutout loss in 11 years in a 38-0 loss at the hands of the still undefeated Carolina Panthers. The Falcons now sport a losing record for the first time in 2015 as they fall to 6-7 with six consecutive losses. The Falcons fell behind early, with the Panthers scoring 21 points in the first quarter and the Falcons managing to get into Panthers territory on just three of their 11 offensive possessions. The Falcons made it into the red zone once and were unsuccessful in scoring any points after going for it on fourth down and being stopped two yards shy of the end zone on a Matt Ryan pass to wide receiver Roddy White.
Ryan started the game, but did not finish as he was pulled late in the game for reserve Sean Renfree, who saw his first NFL regular-season action. Ryan finished the game completing 22 of 34 passes for 224 yards with an interception. Renfree completed three of seven passes for 11 yards with an interception of his own that iced the game. The Falcons gave up five sacks and 11 hits to their quarterback.
Running back Devonta Freeman led the team on the ground with 40 rushing yards on 12 carries. Tevin Coleman got some work late, rushing for 15 yards on three carries.
Julio Jones led receivers with seven receptions for 88 yards, most of it coming on a 46-yard play he made late in the game to give the Falcons their one legitimate chance to score points. Nick Williams, White and Jacob Tamme each had four receptions for 40, 35 and 26 yards respectively. Freeman added three grabs for 22 yards as well.
Kicker Shayne Graham did not get an opportunity to attempt a field goal. Punter Matt Bosher kicked five times, averaging 45.6 yards with three punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Devin Hester returned a trio of punts for 10 yards and two kickoffs for 62 yards.
Offensively the Falcons were held to their lowest total of the year by a formidable Panthers defense: 230 yards. The team only converted four of 14 third-down attempts (29 percent) and turned the ball over four times in the second half. The Panthers were able to turn those turnovers into 10 points.
Defensively the Falcons gave up 424 total yards to the Panthers including 260 in the first quarter, which marked a franchise record for the latter team. The Panthers converted half their 12 third-down attempts and turned three of four red-zone trips into touchdowns.
Linebackers Paul Worrilow and Justin Durant led the team with eight tackles, each. Worrilow added a tackle for loss as well. Ricardo Allen (three tackles, one pass breakup), Robert Alford (five tackles, two pass breakups), Jonathan Babineaux (three tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss), Vic Beasley (two tackles, one sack, two quarterback hits), Kemal Ishmael (seven tackles), Tyson Jackson (four tackles), Grady Jarrett (six tackles), Joey Mbu (two tackles, one tackle for loss) and Robenson Therezie (three tackles) all had notable games.
The Panthers elected to receive the opening coin toss and got off to a fast start offensively. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton hit tight end Greg Olsen on second down for an 11-yard completion to give the team their first first down of the day. On the very next play, running back Jonathan Stewart ran untouched up the middle on his second carry of the game for a 44-yard gain before he was pushed out of bounds by safety William Moore at the Falcons 22-yard line. Alford broke up Newton’s next pass on a crossing pattern to wide receiver Ted Ginn. Kroy Biermann was able to get pressure on Newton on the next play and draw a holding call on center Ryan Kalil to push the Panthers back to 2nd-and-20 at the 32-yard line. Newton dialed up his favorite receiver again, hitting Olsen on a 25-yard dart at the seven-yard line. Moore stripped Olsen of the ball as he was going to the ground and it was scooped up by Allen, who returned it 15 yards. But the turnover was reviewed by the officials and it was clear that Olsen’s knee touched down before Moore was able to strip the ball, allowing for a 24-yard completion. Two plays later, Jarrett was able to come clean up the middle and nearly got the sack on Newton, but the Panthers quarterback was able to shake him off and throw it away. Unfortunately, O’Brien Schofield came late to deliver a hit on Newton after he got rid of the ball and drew the unnecessary roughness flag. That penalty gave the Panthers 1st-and-goal at the three-yard line. Stewart was stuffed at the one-yard line on a two-yard run on the very next play before leaping over the pile for the one-yard score to put the Panthers on the board for the first time. The Panthers were now up 7-0 after an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive with 11:28 left in the first quarter.
Like Stewart, Freeman was able to break loose on his second carry, making a nice cut to the outside and gaining 22 yards before being brought down at the Falcons 42-yard line. Ryan hit Jones on a quick throw in the flat against linebacker Thomas Davis, but the veteran linebacker was able to strip Jones of the ball after the catch. The ball tumbled out of bounds, gaining the Falcons just three yards on the play. The Falcons tried to get Coleman to the edge on the next play, but he was dropped for a loss of two yards thanks to formidable Panthers pursuit. That brought on 3rd-and-9, but Ryan was forced to make a quick throw to Tamme for a six-yard gain well shy of the first-down marker. The Falcons punted after five plays, with Bosher pinning the Panthers back at their seven-yard line to start the next series.
That positive field position didn’t matter as Stewart took the first-down carry for 16 yards after initially running into the pile before breaking outside for the big gain. Two plays later, Newton dialed up a deep shot Ginn. He and Alford were fighting for position along the sideline, but the Panthers receiver was able to pull away with his trademark deep speed and make the grab for a 74-yard throw. Alford, seemingly looking for an offensive pass interference call on Ginn for pushing off stopped chasing the receiver, allowing for an easy score. Instead the officials flagged Alford for illegal contact and the Panthers were up 14-0 after a three-play, 93-yard drive with 6:48 left in the first quarter.
A quick throw to fullback Patrick DiMarco followed by a three-yard run by Freeman, set up the Falcons with a 3rd-and-2 on their next series. Ryan was able to hit Justin Hardy on a shallow crossing pattern, as the rookie receiver was able to gain nine yards for the conversion with a one-handed grab. The Falcons tried a pitch to Freeman, but he was stuffed for a loss of eight yards. But an offsides penalty against Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy gave the Falcons a first down and five free yards. Freeman was again stuffed for a loss of three yards on his next carry. On second down, Ryan tried to go to Jones, but Panthers cornerback Josh Norman was in tight coverage and helped break up the throw. On 3rd-and-8, pressure forced Ryan to try and flip a throw to DiMarco in the flat, but Ryan was hit by defensive end Jared Allen and the ball fell well short of DiMarco’s outstretched hands. The Falcons punted the ball back to the Panthers with 3:35 left in the opening quarter.
The Falcons finally stopped Stewart, with rookie nose tackle Joey Mbu shooting upfield for a loss of three yards in his NFL debut. Two plays later on 3rd-and-8, Newton was able to deliver a throw on a slant to Corey “Philly” Brown with Alford slinging him down after a nine-yard gain for a first down. Newton then hit Olsen down the seam for a 17-yard gain before connecting on a six-yard throw over the middle to wideout Jerricho Cotchery to get into Falcons territory. Rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess stopped his route on a quick slant, causing Newton to overthrow him and Alford nearly made the diving interception. However the Falcons would learn to rue that missed opportunity as Ginn was able to race past linebacker Philip Wheeler and Allen on the next play for a 46-yard score on a long bomb by Newton. Just like that, the Panthers were up 21-0 with 12 seconds left in the first quarter after a quick, seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
The Falcons ended the first quarter with a check down to DiMarco for 10 yards. Freeman got the ball on the next four plays, with three runs for a combined four yards and a 12-yard catch to set up a 3rd-and-6 from the Falcons 48-yard line. White was able to make the grab for five yards to set up a 4th-and-1. With 11:53 left in the second quarter, the Falcons opted to go for it and were able to convert on a 12-yard throw to White. On the tackle, White received a bit of something extra from Panthers safety Roman Harper, which gave the Falcons 15 more yards and put them at the opposing 20-yard line. However on the next play, defensive tackle Kawann Short was able to get past left guard Andy Levitre and deliver a big hit on Ryan, popping the ball loose before Jones was able to fall on it. The Falcons lost 26 yards on the play, knocking them out of scoring range. A screen to Jones netted them back six yards before Freeman dropped a check down over the middle with Davis bearing down on him. That forced the Falcons to punt it with Ginn making a fair catch at the eight-yard line.
The Falcons defense made their first stand of the day on the ensuing Panthers series. Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman was able to generate some pressure up the middle, flushing Newton out of the pocket on 3rd-and-2 before cornerback Desmond Trufant could deliver a hit to force a throwaway. The Panthers punted for the first time after a three-and-out with 8:07 left in the first half.
The Falcons went to Jones to start the ensuing series with the receiver making a nice grab down the seam for 14 yards. Ryan then overthrew White on an intermediate crossing pattern. Two plays later, White converted on third down with a 14-yard grab to get the ball to the 49-yard line. However an illegal substation penalty on DiMarco on the next play pushed the Falcons back six yards. A blitz by the Panthers forced Ryan to throw a hot read to Jones for a minimal gain of five yards in the flat. Another throw into the flat to Tamme for seven yards set up a manageable 3rd-and-4 at the Panthers 45-yard line. But Davis was able to blast through Freeman’s attempt to pick up the blitz and split a sack with defensive end Mario Addision, resulting in another Falcons punt.
The Panthers took over at their 19-yard line with 3:44 left on the first-half clock. After a three-yard run, Stewart gained 14 yards on a screen pass from Newton. After the two-minute warning, Newton tried to keep it on 2nd-and-1, but was stopped by Ishmael a yard shy of the sticks. The Panthers tried a quarterback sneak with Newton and it appeared initially that he was stopped a yard shy of the sticks, but the officials ruled it a first down and upon review confirmed the call. That gave the Panthers a first down with 45 seconds left in the half. Newton fired a bullet to Brown along the sideline, but he could not make the grab. However Brown made up for it on the next play, nabbing a laser from Newton for a 26-yard gain over the outstretched hand of cornerback Phillip Adams. Newton took a shot from Babineaux on the throw and exited the game for a single play. Backup quarterback Derek Anderson entered the game and proceeded to hit Brown for a 24-yard throw on a diving post route, putting the Panthers at the Falcons four-yard line. Newton tried to force an end-zone throw to Olsen in double coverage but it was broken up by Allen. On the play, Olsen injured his left knee and exited the game. However it mattered not as backup tight end Ed Dickson was able to beat Alford on a slant, making a diving grab on another laser from Newton for the four-yard score. The Panthers went up 28-0 with 17 seconds left in the half with a 10-play, 81-yard scoring drive.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Falcons took a knee content to regroup in the second half.
Hester was able to return the opening kick of the second half 35 yards to give the Falcons good starting field position. The Falcons proceeded to throw the ball three times on the opening possession with Ryan only connected on one of them on an eight-yard throw to Tamme. On 3rd-and-2, Ryan was hit as he threw by Davis and Jones was unable to make the grab over the middle. The Falcons started the second half with a three-and-out and punted it to the Panthers.
The Panthers opted to run the ball on their first two plays, with the Falcons defense holding Fozzy Whittaker and Mike Tolbert to one and two-yard gains, respectively. Then on 3rd-and-7, Newton was pressured by Beasley but managed to avoid the rookie defensive end initially. But other Falcons defenders swarmed him and Beasley was able to trip him up on his second sack-attempt to get the stop and force a Panthers punt after a three-and-out.
To start the Falcons drive, Freeman danced his way to an eight-yard gain on a screen pass. That was followed by a nice jump cut in which the Falcons running back gained nine yards to give the Falcons a new set of downs at their 41-yard line. However Ryan hit the back on a shallow crossing patter and Freeman was stripped by linebacker A.J. Klein. Ealy fell on the loose ball and the Panthers took over at the Falcons 43-yard line with 10:31 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers dialed up a jet sweep to Brown for a nine-yard gain on the ensuing drive, which was followed up by a reverse to Ginn for five yards. Two plays later, the Panthers converted on 3rd-and-1 thanks to an 11-yard grab by Funchess, who beat Alford on a slant. Alford was flagged for pass interference, but the penalty was declined. Newton scrambled on the next play, but was forced out of bounds by Schofield, resulting in a sack on the stat sheets and a loss of a single yard. Panthers right tackle Mike Remmers was flagged for holding against Worrilow, pushing the Panthers back 10 yards to the Falcons 20-yard line. After a six-yard run by Whittaker, the Falcons were able to drop Newton for another sack with Babineaux getting the credit. Remmers was once again flagged for illegal use of hands against Babineaux, but the penalty was declined pushing the Panthers to 3rd-and-goal from the 20-yard line. Newton was high on a sideline throw to Funchess, forcing the team to settle for a 38-yard field goal from kicker Graham Gano. The pushed Carolina’s lead to 31-0 with 5:46 left in the third quarter.
Ryan hit his first two passes on the ensuing drive, including a six-yard throw to Jones where the receiver made a nice diving grab to convert on 3rd-and-4. Yet Ryan could not connect on his next two passes, including a play in which he was able to escape pressure outside of the pocket, briefly lost control of the ball and threw it away out of bounds in the direction of Hardy. The on the very next play, a 3rd-and-10, Levitre was beat by a stunt by Short and the Panthers defensive tackle was able to jar the ball loose for the second time on his second sack of the day when he was able to throw Ryan to the turf. Short recovered the loose ball and the Panthers once again had very favorable field position at the falcons 26-yard line.
The Panthers opted to run the ball three times, converting on a 3rd-and-1 with a one-yard run by Whittaker. On the very next play, Whittaker was able to get to the edge, power through a tackle by Trufant and get in the end zone on a 16-yard scoring run. The Panthers now held a 38-point lead after a four-play, 26-yard scoring drive with 2:18 left in the third quarter.
Two plays into the Falcons’ next drive, White and Panthers cornerback Cortland Finnegan were flagged for offsetting penalties due a scuffle after the whistle. That set up another attempt at 2nd-and-7 with Ryan overthrowing Jones on a deep shot and taking a hit from defensive end Charles Johnson. On the ensuing their down, Jones was able to make an eight-yard grab to get a conversion. However on the next play, Ryan got greedy and forced a deep throw to Hardy and Kuechly was in perfect position to get the interception at the Panthers 43-yard line. An unnecessary roughness penalty on cornerback Bene Benwikere after the play backed up the Panthers an additional 15 yards as the team took over with 48 seconds left in the quarter.
The Panthers subbed in Anderson once more with Newton being done for the day. His first pass attempt on the final play of the third quarter was an errant deep sideline throw to Brown with Trufant picking it off as he was going out of bounds. But the officials ruled that the Falcons cornerback bobbled the ball as he was going out of bounds and it resulted in an incompletion. Anderson then connected on his next throw, hitting third-string tight end Scott Simonson, who was able to power through a tackle from Worrilow for a 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-7. Worrilow redeemed himself two plays later, dragging down Whittaker behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of six yards on a screen pass. That set up 3rd-and-21 with the Falcons getting another stop thanks to Adams making the stop against Funchess on a quick screen to the outside after an eight-yard gain. The Panthers punted and the Falcons took over with 11:56 left in the game.
Ryan went to his favorite target in Jones on the opening play, with the Falcons receiver shedding a tackle by Benwikere and a couple of other Panthers defenders to gain 46 yards. Then the Falcons dialed up a quick screen to Williams, but the ball was deflected in mid-air by Addision. But Williams made a great adjustment, still nabbed the pass and sprinted downfield for a 29-yard gain, putting the Falcons at the Panthers six-yard line. The Falcons tried a draw play to Freeman, but it was stopped for no gain, setting up 2nd-and-goal. Ryan tried to throw high to Hardy in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t make the high grab with a Panther defender undercutting him. Then on third down, the Falcons tried a pick route to Freeman, but the Falcons running back fell on his route and the ball went incomplete, nearly being picked off by a Panthers defender. The Falcons opted to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the six, with Ryan dialing up White with Jones on the sideline. White made the grab, but was swarmed by Panthers defenders at the two-yard line, unable to score. The Panthers took over on downs with 9:49 left on the game clock.
Two runs by Tolbert up the middle gained a combined six yards, setting up a 3rd-and-6. Anderson then overthrow Brown on a deep throw down the sideline on third down and the Panthers punted. Hester returned the 49-yard kick 11 yards, giving the Falcons favorable field position at the Panthers 44-yard line.
The Falcons subbed in Renfree with the game out of hand. He completed his first pass on a quick throw to Williams for 11 yards. But right tackle Ryan Schraeder was flagged for unsportsmanlike contact for getting after Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson after the whistle, wiping out the gain and subsequently being pulled from the game by Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. Veteran offensive tackle Jake Long replaced him in the lineup. Renfree’s next pass was an overthrown screen to Coleman, followed up by the Falcons runner gaining 11 yards on a draw play up the middle for a second-down conversion. Renfree tried another quick throw to Williams into the flat, but he was wrapped up by a Panthers defender for a loss of four yards. Two plays later the Falcons tried another draw to Coleman, this time gaining just six yards on 3rd-and-14. Opting to go for it on 4th-and-8, Renfree was able to hit Hardy on a slant for 10 yards. But Williams was flagged for a false start, wiping out the conversion. On the ensuing 4th-and-13 at the Panther 40-yard line, Renfree was sacked by defensive tackle Kyle Love after stepping up into the pocket to avoid the pressure allowed by Long on the outside.
The Panthers took over at their 49-yard line with 5:01 left in the game. They tried two sweeps to Whittaker, gaining a combined seven yards to set up 3rd-and-3. Tolbert was able to break a tackle against Durant, but was tripped up before converting on a two-yard run, bringing up 4th-and-inches. The Panthers tried to sneak it up the middle with Anderson, and after an official measurement, was stopped less than a foot shy of the sticks, giving the ball back to Atlanta with 2:19 left in the game.
Renfree hit Williams on a quick screen for four yards to start the drive as the two-minute warning hit. He was then sacked by Klein on an easy blitz up the middle where the Panthers linebacker was unblocked, losing the Falcons eight yards. Renfree missed on his third-down throw to Tamme, bringing up 4th-and-14 with 1:33 left in the game. Renfree tried to step up in the pocket to avoid pressure and wound up throwing a wobbly pass deep to Hardy, which went over the receivers’ head and into the waiting arms of Panthers safety Kurt Coleman.
The Panthers took over with 1:22 left in the game and proceeded to get into victory formation. Despite having all three timeouts the Falcons made no attempt to delay the inevitable Panthers victory.
Including their Week 17 blowout loss to the Panthers a year ago, they have been blown out by their NFC South divisional rival by a score of 72-3 in their last two match ups. The Falcons hope to lick their gaping wounds next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8) on the road. It marks their final road game of the season with the Falcons hoping to snap their three-game road losing skid after starting the year 3-1 on the road. It marks the sixth time since the Jaguars joined the NFL in 1995 that the Falcons have faced the team. The Falcons won their last matchup, beating the Jaguars 41-14 on Thursday Night football at the end of the 2011 season. The Falcons have yet to beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville, losing twice there. Their most recent outing was a 13-7 loss in 2007. The Jaguars have won three of their last four home games and have scored a combined 90 points in their last two outings with the Falcons only having a combined 86 points in their last five games.