Halfway through the 2013 season, the Atlanta Falcons record stands at 2-6 with a 34-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers today. The Falcons kept it close through the first three quarters, but mistakes led to the Panthers scoring three times in the final nine minutes to stretch their lead.
Matt Ryan had another up and down game. He threw three interceptions on his way to completing 20 of 27 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons finally showed some life on the ground, as Steven Jackson led the team with 57 yards on 13 carries (4.4 avg). Jacquizz Rodgers added another 19 yards on five carries (3.8 avg). Tony Gonzalez and Rodgers led the team with six catches each, for 81 and 25 yards, respectively. Gonzalez caught Ryan’s lone touchdown pass. Harry Douglas caught three passes for 82 yards with Steven Jackson also having three catches for 19 yards. Matt Bryant hit on his lone 28-yard field goal try. Matt Bosher punted five times, averaging 45.0 yards and placing one punt inside the 20-yard line. Robert McClain returned a single punt for 16 yards, while Jacquizz Rodgers averaged 29.5 yards on a pair of kickoff returns. The Falcons generated 289 of total net yards of offense, their third consecutive game with under 300 yards. The team converted on four of 10 third downs, and managed to convert on one of two red zone trips.
Defensively, the Falcons gave up 373 total yards to the Panthers and allowed eight of 14 third down conversions. They did force a pair of turnovers on Cam Newton interceptions. Paul Worrilow led the team with 19 tackles, a season high for him and the team. Robert Alford (2 tackles, 1 interception); Joplo Bartu (8 tackles); Thomas DeCoud (5 tackles); Akeem Dent (4 tackles); Jonathan Massaquoi (3 tackles, 0.5 sacks); William Moore (6 tackles); Corey Peters (2 tackles, 2 QB hits); Asante Samuel (8 tackles); Desmond Trufant (5 tackles, 1 interception); and Osi Umenyiora (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks) had noteworthy games.
The Falcons dialed up Steven Jackson on their first offensive series, rushing him twice and throwing to him on a checkdown on third down. But he was stopped a yard shy of the sticks and the Falcons were forced to punt, opening the game with a three-and-out.
But the Falcons defense responded, as Jonathan Massaquoi and Osi Umenyiora converged on third down to sack Cam Newton and force a Panthers punt off a three-and-out.
On the second play of the next series, Ryan forced a pass into coverage to Tony Gonzalez. That resulted in an easy interception by Luke Kuechly, setting up Carolina at Atlanta’s 39-yard line. After converting on a third down with a 18-yard pass to Steve Smith, the Panthers found themselves in the red zone. On their next third down, Desmond Trufant was flagged for pass interference giving the Panthers the ball at the 3-yard line. Two plays later, Mike Tolbert rumbled up the middle for a 4-yard scoring touchdown to give Carolina a 7-0 lead.
The Falcons and Matt Ryan looked towards Tony Gonzalez on the ensuing drive with three big catches, including a pair of third down conversions. The latter of which was where he got behind the defense for a 19-yard catch that got the ball down to the 7-yard line with the first quarter coming to a close. On the first play of the second quarter, Jackson ran it in on 3rd-and-2 for a touchdown. But the scoring play was nullified by a holding call on Garrett Reynolds. After another checkdown by Ryan on the ensuing 3rd-and-12 to Jacquizz Rodgers for two yards, the Falcons were forced to settle for a field goal. Matt Bryant connected on his 28-yard attempt to cut the lead to 7-3.
The Panthers moved the ball to midfield on their next series thanks in large part to converting a 3rd-and-12 with a 23-yard pass to Steve Smith early in the series, where Newton made multiple Falcons defenders miss to buy time outside the pocket. But Newton got greedy and attempted a deep pass to Ted Ginn, but Trufant stepped in front of it to get his first career interception at the Panther 5-yard line.
The Falcons began their next drive with an opening 8-yard run by Jackson, but they began moving back on the next play after a Lamar Holmes penalty for illegal formation. Ryan’s third down pass to Harry Douglas was incomplete and the Falcons were forced to punt again.
The Panthers got favorable field position off a 24-yard punt return by Ginn. After four plays, the Panthers were set up at the Falcons 14-yard line on 3rd-and-1. Paul Worrilow and Peria Jerry combined to make the stop in the hole to stuff Tolbert on the third down run. But the Panthers opted to go for it on 4th-and-1, and the Falcons got sucked up by the run. That left Greg Olsen wide open behind the defense for a 14-yard touchdown pass. With little more than four minutes remaining in the half, the Panthers now had a 14-3 lead.
But the Falcons offense showed their first signs of life, kicking off their next drive with a 41-yard catch by Douglas over the middle. Gonzalez made a big catch in traffic on third down to convert on a 14-yard play. That put the ball in the red zone for the second time for the Falcons. Two plays later, Ryan found Gonzalez behind the defense in the end zone on a back-shoulder throw for an 17-yard score.
With 1:55 left in the first half, the Panthers began to move the ball on their next series. They got a lot of help on a questionable pass interference call on Trufant on a third down to get the ball near midfield. Then Carolina got a favorable spot on a 10-yard catch by Ted Ginn to give them another first down on third down. Then Newton hit Olsen for a 21-yard pass on his next third down. But on the next play, Newton miscommunicated with his receiver who stopped his route, and Newton’s overthrown pass was picked off in the back of the end zone by Robert Alford. The play was initially called incomplete, but the play was reviewed by the officials, and Alford did some toe-tapping to get both field in bounds to reverse the call and get the turnover and touchback.
The Falcons knelt on their lone play with 20 seconds left in the half to go into halftime still down 14-10.
The Panthers started the second half with an 8-play scoring drive that resulted in a 55-yard field goal from Graham Gano. They got help from pressure from Jonathan Massaquoi, who forced an overthrow by Newton on third down to force the field goal.
The Falcons once again turned to Jackson to start the half with a pair of runs to set up a 3rd-and-1. But he was stuffed for no gain on the next play, and the Falcons had another three-and-out and punt.
After the Falcons defense was able to force a 3rd-and-9, Newton scrambled 12 yards to get the first and convert. Illegal contact by Joplo Bartu gave the Panthers another first down. But Newton missed on a deep throw to Brandon LaFell on the ensuing third down to give the ball back to Atlanta off a punt.
The Falcons next series started very promising with a 13-yard run by Jackson. That was followed by a 32-yard catch from Douglas. But Ryan’s next pass to Douglas was slightly overthrown, and the ball tipped off Douglas’ hand into the arms of Thomas Davis for Ryan’s second interception of the game.
The Panthers didn’t capitalize thanks to an overthrow by Newton to an open LaFell deep down field. The Panthers punted and the Falcons took over for one final play of the third quarter, a 10-yard run by Jacquizz Rodgers. But the Falcons were unsuccessful moving the ball after that point and punted again.
The Panthers were able convert another third down on a 12-man on the field penalty by the Falcons. On the next third down play, Newton hit LaFell for a 23-yard pass, beating Asante Samuel. But Samuel caught LaFell from behind and stripped him. But Alford’s attempt to recover the loose ball resulted it in a Panther bounce back into the hands of LaFell. That gave the Panthers a new set of downs at the Falcons 8-yard line, and Newton ran in on the next play on a quarterback sweep for the score.
That pushed the Panthers lead to 24-10 with nine minutes left in the game. The second play of the Falcons next drive, Drayton Florence jumped a quick out to Drew Davis, and took it back 38 yards for a touchdown and pick six. That pushed the lead to 31-10 within thirty seconds.
The Falcons offense responded with a three-and-out thanks to a sack on Ryan on third down, the first allowed by the offensive line in the game. With 6:38 left in the game, the Panthers took over and proceeded to burn clock with runs. Eight straight runs and a face mask penalty by Akeem Dent got the ball down to Falcons 5-yard line at the two-minute warning. Two plays later, the Panthers settled for a 20-yard field goal to push their lead to 34-10.
Taking over with 1:13 left in the game, Ryan and the Falcons were able to move the ball to midfield. But on the final play of the game, Rodgers fumbled after a 11-yard catch and the ball was recovered by Frank Alexander as time expired.
The Falcons will face the 7-1 Seattle Seahawks next week at home. It will be a rematch of the Falcons win in the divisional playoffs last year 30-28. Under head coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks are 2-6 when playing games in the Eastern timezone at 1:00 pm.