Falcons Hold Off Panthers Comeback in 19-17 Win

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Mike Smith has led the Falcons out of the cellar

The Atlanta Falcons pulled off an ugly win on the road against the Carolina Panthers by a score of 19-17, as the Panthers missed a pair of last-minute field goals. The Panthers managed to come back down 16-3 with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to take a 17-16 lead, before Falcons kicker Matt Bryant hit ultimately the game-winner with two minutes left in the game. It was one of four field goals that Bryant hit on the day. The Falcons record moves to 4-6 and are now standing atop the NFC South division in current standings.

Matt Ryan led the team, completing 31 of 45 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown. Steven Jackson led Falcons rushers on the ground with 41 yards on 17 carries. Devonta Freeman added 28 yards on six carries. Roddy White led receivers with eight catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. Julio Jones (six catches, 59 yards) and Harry Douglas (four catches, 46 yards) also helped out the team’s passing game. Bryant connected on field goals of 34, 42, 26 and 44 yards. Matt Bosher punted seven times for an average of 49.1 yards, with two punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Devin Hester had a single kickoff return for 19 yards. The Falcons struggled on third downs throughout the day, only converting five of 15 attempts. The team produced 346 yards of total offense and scored touchdowns on just one of three red-zone trips.

Defensively, the Falcons were able to get a couple of stops early thanks to a pair of interceptions on the part of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. The team allowed 391 total yards, but was able to get off the field frequently on third downs, allowing just three of 13 third-down attempts to be converted by the Panthers. Paul Worrilow led the unit with nine tackles and a sack. Jonathan Babineaux (three tackles); Joplo Bartu (four tackles); Kroy Biermann (seven tackles); Kemal Ishmael (six interceptions, one interception, two pass deflections); Dwight Lowery (six tackles); Robert McClain (three tackles); Dezmen Southward (two tackles, one sack); and Desmond Trufant (one interception, two pass deflections) had noteworthy games. Ra’Shede Hageman blocked Panthers kicker Graham Gano’s 63-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game.

Ryan scrambled for a four-yard gain to start the Falcons’ opening possession. A run by Steven Jackson on the following play went for a minimal two-yard gain, setting up the Falcons’ first third down. Ryan hit White on a crossing pattern, but Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis made the stop a yard shy of the sticks on 3rd-and-4, and the Falcons began the game with a three-and-out.

Tyson Jackson blasted Newton up the middle when he went unblocked on the opening play of the ensuing Panthers possession. But he was flagged for roughing the passer for contacting Newton’s head and it instead became a 15-yard penalty against the Falcons. Newton hit his next pass two plays later, a 12-yard catch by wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. But on the ensuing third down, Newton’s pass to tight end Greg Olsen was tipped by Lowery into the waiting hands of Ishmael, who made the catch along the sideline.

The Falcons took over at their 32-yard line, but once again failed to capitalize with a three-and-out. Steven Jackson started the drive with a pair of four-yard runs, but Ryan could not complete the third-down pass to White, leading to Bosher’s second punt of the afternoon.

The Panthers continued to be effective moving the ball on the ensuing drive. A pair of runs by running back DeAngelo Williams for a combined 11 yards was followed by a 13-yard run by Jonathan Stewart. Newton converted two plays later with a three-yard scramble on 2nd-and-3. Two plays later, Olsen made a 10-yard grab to get the ball into Falcons territory. Three plays later, Newton scrambled away from Biermann and was able to find wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for a nine-yard pass to convert on 3rd-and-9. The Panthers again converted on another third down a few plays later with a 13-yard crossing pattern to Olsen. That also put the ball in the red zone, placing the ball at the Falcons’ 11-yard line. Stewart made a nice jump cut on the outside to get a six-yard gain on the next play. But on the next play, Trufant got physical with Benjamin in the end zone on a missed throw by Newton. Ishmael then broke up the pass to Olsen in the end zone on third down, prompting Gano to attempt a 23-yard field goal to start the second quarter. Gano hit and the Panthers had tied up the game with 14:57 left in the first half.

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Matt Ryan completes a pass

The Falcons offense started to finally get into gear on the following possession. Jones made his first grab of the game on the second play from scrimmage, a seven-yard grab that gave the Falcons a first down. Douglas got into the act two plays later with a 17-yard grab for another first down that put the ball near midfield. Jones made another grab near the sideline for a 10-yard gain two plays later. But Ryan’s next pass to Jones on a screen was too high and incomplete. That prompted a 3rd-and-7 from the Panthers 36-yard line, and the Falcons converted on a 19-yard grab from White down the seam. After a three-yard run by Jackson, pressure forced Ryan to scramble and throw the ball away on second down. On another 3rd-and-7 from the Panthers 14-yard line, Ryan held onto the ball too long and was sacked by Mario Addison. That prompted the Falcons to settle for a 34-yard field goal from Bryant to push their lead to 6-3 with 9:26 left in the first half.

Babineaux sniffed out a screen to start the next drive, dropping DeAngelo Williams for a three-yard loss. But Newton converted two plays later on third down on a quarterback keeper, gaining eight yards. The Panthers drive stalled there, as on their next third down, Newton overthrew Cotchery. That led to a Brad Nortman punt, and the Falcons took over at their own 25-yard line with 6:25 left in the half.

A 10-yard grab by fullback Patrick DiMarco gave the Falcons their lone first down of the ensuing series. Ryan’s next pass to Jones was broken up by Panthers cornerback Josh Norman. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly exploded up the middle unblocked on a blitz, forcing Ryan to check down to Hester for a one-yard gain, well shy of the sticks on 3rd-and-7. That led to another Bosher punt.

The next Panthers drive stalled thanks to pressure from Babineaux, who chased around Newton for a bit before the rest of the Falcons defense could corral him, with Southward ultimately receiving credit for the sack. That resulted in a four-and-out and the Panthers were punting the ball back to Atlanta with 1:35 left in the first half.

Ryan hit Jones on a pair of passes for a combined 20 yards to get the ball into Panthers territory with less than a minute on the second-quarter clock. But Kuechly again got pressure, forcing Ryan to check it down to Jacquizz Rodgers for a short gain. Ryan hit White over the middle on a 10-yard pass to convert on 3rd-and-9 to keep the drive alive. The Falcons spiked the ball with 24 seconds left on the clock. Jones then made an 11-yard grab on a slant before the Falcons burned their final timeout with six seconds left. Bryant walked onto the field and hit a 42-yard field goal to push Atlanta’s lead to 6-3 as the first half came to a close.

The second half started out promising for the Falcons, as Trufant jumped a throw on the Panthers third play from scrimmage. He returned it 19 yards to the Panthers’ 14-yard line to set up the Falcons first series.

However, the Falcons failed to take advantage. A pair of runs by Jackson netted the Falcons six yards, before the team decided to throw a screen to Jones on third down. Ryan’s throw was high and incomplete, and Bryant connected on a 26-yard field goal to push the lead to 9-3 with 12:09 left in the third quarter.

To start the next series, Newton escaped pressure from Babineaux, but Worrilow was able to track him down and get the sack along the sideline. The Panthers had a three-and-out and the Falcons got the ball right back to push their lead even further.

The Falcons did so with an eight-play, 55-yard scoring drive. The drive started with a nine-yard gain by Hester for nine yards on an end-around. That was followed up by a four-yard gain by Jackson on 3rd-and-1 to give the Falcons their third third-down conversion of the day. The Falcons converted another a few plays later with an 18-yard pass to Hester, which put the ball at the Panthers’ 22-yard line. Ryan dialed up Levine Toilolo on a back-shoulder throw, which gained 20 yards and set the Falcons up at the two-yard line. White broke open on a crossing pattern for a two-yard score to push Atlanta’s lead to 16-3 with 6:38 left in the third quarter.

Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker gained 46 yards on the ensuing Bosher kickoff to give Carolina favorable field position. But the Panthers failed to capitalize with a three-and-out, thanks to a dropped pass by Cotchery on a perfectly thrown pass by Newton along the sideline.

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Hester is amidst a scrum between the two teams

Freeman got a good deal of work to start the ensuing Falcons drive, carrying the ball on three of the first four plays. His best gain being a 15-yard gain on his second carry. That was followed up by an 11-yard catch by White, which was followed by a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Panthers safety Roman Harper for illegal hands to the face while making the tackle against White. The caused a shoving match between the two teams, which only escalated on the ensuing play with Douglas and Norman getting into a scrap. Hester joined the fray, diving at Norman as he took Douglas to the ground and leading with the crown of his helmet. That resulted in a 15-yard penalty against Hester, which was followed by a false start penalty against right tackle Ryan Schraeder. That backed up the Falcons for 2nd-and-26. Hester then caught a screen and ran 15 yards before a hit by Thomas Davis jarred the ball loose. Kuechly fell on the loose ball and the Panthers took over with two minutes remaining in the third quarter at their 30-yard line.

But the Panthers once again failed to capitalize with another three-and-out. Newton overthrew Olsen on third down, which led to a 42-yard punt by Nortman, that was downed at the Falcons’ six-yard line. The Falcons took possession with the fourth quarter beginning.

The Falcons failed to move the ball much thanks to Ryan missing on a throw to White over the middle, resulting in a three-and-out of their own.

Olsen made a 13-yard grab to start the Panthers next possession, but when Newton tried to go back to Olsen on third down a few plays later, it was off the mark leading to another Panthers punt.

The Falcons tried to dial up a deep shot to White on the next series with a back-shoulder throw, but White couldn’t reel in the ball along the sideline. That resulted in another Falcons three-and-out, followed by a punt.

Paul Soliai was flagged for roughing the passer penalty on the third play of the ensuing Panthers series, which put the ball in Falcons territory. Newton ran up the middle on a keeper for a 15-yard gain. That was followed by him taking a shot to Benjamin in the end zone. Initially the ball bounced off his hands, but Benjamin was able to grab it on the second effort over Trufant for a touchdown. That cut the Falcons lead to 16-10 with 9:12 left in the game.

A holding penalty on Gabe Carimi on the ensuing kickoff backed up the Falcons to their own eight-yard line. But Ryan hit White on a quick slant to get 11 yards back to start the drive. However, Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson beat Schraeder to get a sack on Ryan two plays later, backing them up to a 3rd-and-15. Ryan’s check down to Rodgers was off the mark and the Falcons punted after a four-and-out.

Cotchery made a 22-yard grab down the seam to put the ball in Falcons territory to start the Panthers drive. Backup Panthers wide receiver Philly Brown then got behind Robert McClain on a double move for a 47-yard touchdown on the very next play. The Panthers had scored on a two-play, 69-yard drive and taken a 17-16 lead with 6:20 left in the game.

Kuechly broke up Ryan’s pass to Toilolo with a big hit to start the ensuing Falcons possession. But Ryan found Douglas on consecutive plays for 21 yards to move the ball. Freeman followed that up with an eight-yard carry. White caught an 11-yard pass to get the ball into Panthers territory on the next play. Ryan scrambled away from pressure and was able to find Toilolo for a three-yard gain two plays later to set up a 3rd-and-5. Douglas made the grab underneath for an eight-yard gain to keep the chains moving. Pressure got to Ryan once more, but he was able to avoid the sack and throw it away. On 3rd-and-9, the Falcons tried a bubble screen to White, but Panthers safety Colin Jones broke up the pass and the Falcons had to settle for a 44-yard field goal from Bryant. The Falcons kicker nailed the kick and the Falcons had re-taken the lead, 19-17, with 2:08 left in the game.

Bosher had a short kick on the ensuing kickoff, which started the Panthers at their own 36-yard line to begin their next drive. Olsen made a sideline grab for 15 yards to get the ball to midfield as the two-minute warning hit. Osi Umenyiora got pressure on the next play and a tipped pass was nearly intercepted by Southward, but fell incomplete. That was followed by a 17-yard grab from Benjamin thanks to breaking a tackle against Trufant and getting yards after the catch. The Panthers ran the ball twice, forcing the Falcons to burn a pair of timeouts as they set up for 3rd-and-5 at the Falcons’ 27-yard line. Jonathan Stewart was stuffed for a one-yard loss and the Panthers appeared ready to settle for a 46-yard field goal attempt from Gano with 1:26 left in the game. But Gano’s kick was wide left and the Falcons seemingly had the chance to seal their win.

Steve Jackson was able to run twice forcing the Panthers to burn their two final timeouts. He was stopped a yard shy of the first down on 3rd-and-6 and the Falcons were able to bleed the clock down to 28 seconds before Bosher punted it back to the Panthers.

The Panthers started the drive at their 16-yard line. Newton hit Benjamin on a cross, who then lateraled to Cotchery for a total gain of 14 yards to get out of bounds at the 30-yard line with 15 seconds left. Benjamin was then able to get an additional seven yards before getting out of bounds with eight seconds left on the game clock. The Falcons set up their defenders along the sideline in prevent defense, leaving the middle of the field wide open. Newton hit Benjamin wide open over the middle on a cross, who gained 19 yards before lateraling to Olsen, who was able to get out of bounds at the Falcons’ 45-yard line with a second left on the clock. That set up a 63-yard kick for Gano, but the kick was blocked by Hageman and the Falcons had escaped with a win.

The New Orleans Saints loss to the Cincinnati Bengals puts both teams at 4-6, and the Falcons own the tie-breaker thanks to their Week 1 win over the Saints. That means that despite the team’s struggles, the Falcons now control their playoff destiny in the NFC South.

Next week the Falcons will return to the Georgia Dome for the first time since Week 6 to face the Cleveland Browns (6-4). The Falcons have hosted the Browns only twice in the Georgia Dome in team history, splitting the game. The Browns last trip was in 2006, resulting a 17-16 win for them. The Falcons and Browns haven’t faced each other since 2010, with the Falcons beating the Browns 20-10 in Cleveland. The Falcons are looking for their first win outside the NFC South, while the Browns are undefeated so far against the division with wins over the Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers already this season.

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Aaron Freeman
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