The Falcons overcame a 16-point halftime deficit to rally to beat the Carolina Panthers 31-23. It was the biggest halftime deficit overcome by the Falcons since they rallied 17 points to beat the Los Angeles Rams in October of 1987. The Falcons record moves to 8-5 and now they are in the driver’s seat as far as their wildcard hopes go with three games remaining.
Matt Ryan led the team with 320 yards passing, completing 22 of 38 pass attempts with 4 touchdowns. On the ground, Michael Turner led with 76 yards on 21 carries (3.6 avg). Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez both had 7 receptions for 84 and 82 yards, respectively. White also had a touchdown. Julio Jones had 3 catches for 104 yards and 2 scores, while Jacquizz Rodgers had 2 receptions for 39 yards and a score. Matt Bryant connected on a 30-yard field goal, but was wide left on a 46-yard attempt. Matt Bosher punted well with 6 punts for an average of 47.8 yards and 3 placed inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems averaged 7 yards on a pair of punt returns and 23 yards on his lone kickoff return. The Falcons only generated 117 total yards of offense in the first half, and converted 3 of 9 third downs (33%). But in the second half things picked up with 277 total yards of offense and 5 of 8 on third downs.
Much of the team’s offensive turnaround was faciliated by a pair of turnovers generated by defense, in which the team was able to score 7 points off. The defense did not have much of an answer for the Panthers in the first half, allowing 245 total yards including two touchdowns off big plays. Sean Weatherspoon led the team with 9 tackles, and also had a sack, two tackles for loss, and a pass defended.
John Abraham (3 tackles); Jonathan Babineaux (3 tackles); Ray Edwards (3 tackles, 1 sack); Dominique Franks (2 tackles, 1 pass defended); Curtis Lofton (5 tackles); William Moore (3 tackles, 1 interception); Chris Owens (4 tackles); Corey Peters (3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss); Mike Peterson (1 tackle, 1 interception); and Dunta Robinson (4 tackles, 1 pass defended) had notable games.
On the opening series of the game, an offensive pass interference call against Roddy White negated a conversion on 3rd & 5, and the Falcons wound up punting. But the defense held Carolina to a three-and-out to get the ball back near midfield. Ryan hit White on an 11-yard completion to convert on one third down, and then three plays later on a 9-yard play to convert another to put the team in the redzone. After two Turner runs, Ryan found White in the back of the endzone on a 5-yard score to put the team up 7-0 with over 5 minutes to go in the first quarter. But the Panthers would answer, as Cam Newton would engineer a 9-play, 74-yard drive to close out the first quarter. That drive culminated with a 6-yard pass from Newton to Jeremy Shockey to tie the game 7-7. The Falcons would convert one third down on the ensuing drive, but ultimately had to settle for a Bosher punt, pinning the Panthers at their own 14-yard line. On seven plays, the Panthers were able to move the ball to midfield before punting themselves. That Jason Baker punt was downed at the Falcons 4-yard line. On third down of that drive, Matt Ryan was sacked in the endzone by Antwan Applewhite for a safety. With the Panthers getting the ball back, on the second play of the next drive, DeAngelo Williams broke loose on a 74-yard scoring run to put the Panthers up 16-7 with 7 minutes left in the first half. The Falcons answered with a three-and-out and four plays later Newton found tight end Greg Olsen on a screen pass, but a few broken tackles and Olsen was in the endzone after a 44-yard run to put the team up 23-7. The two teams exchanged drives before the first half came to a close.
The defense came out strong in the second half, forcing a three-and-out by the Panthers. The Falcons would answer thanks to two third down conversions by Tony Gonzalez on the ensuing drive. But Ryan could not connect with Gonzalez on a 3rd & 10 from the Panthers 12-yard line, which mean Matt Bryant trotted out on the field to attempt a 30-yarder which he made. On the third play of the Panthers next drive, Newton tried to flip a pass to Jonathan Stewart, but Mike Peterson stepped in front of it for an interception. That gave the Falcons the ball at the Panthers 35-yard line, and two plays later Ryan found an open Jacquizz Rodgers on a wheel route for a 31-yard score to cut the lead to 6 points with 9 minutes to go in the third quarter. The Panthers began to move the ball on theri next drive, but Newton overthrew Brandon LaFell over the middle which was picked off by William Moore, who returned it 29 yards to the Panthers 24-yard line. The Falcons had a three-and-out thanks to a sack on third down. Bryant came out to attempt a 46-yard field goal, but the kick went wide left. But the defense was stingy with a four-and-out. The Falcons began to move the ball as the fourth quarter began. Ryan found Jones on a 17-yard strike to take the lead 24-23 with less than 13 minutes remaining in the game. Both teams exchanged three-and-outs before the Panthers got the ball back at their own 13-yard line with 9 minutes to go. The Panthers were able to move the ball deep within Falcon territory, but the Panthers missed on two passes which meant they had to settle for a field goal. But Olindo Mare missed the 36-yard attempt, giving the Falcons the ball back with 5 minutes to go. Two plays into the ensuing drive, Ryan found Jones deep over the middle, who then broke a tackle and rumbled the rest of the way for a 75-yard score to take the 8-point lead. On the next drive, Newton found Steve Smith on a 48-yard pass downfield to put them in Falcons territory. But Newton’s passes fell incomplete on the next four plays, including a a 4th & 5 attempt from the Falcons 27-yard line. The Falcons took possession with 3:31 left on the clock. Three runs by Turner and one by Jason Snelling got the clock down to the two-minute warning as the Panthers had no more timeouts. And Ryan hit White on a 16-yard pass to convert the third down which left the game out of reach and the Falcons knelt for the last two plays to take the victory.
The Falcons will have a short week as they will face off the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) at home. It marks the Falcons seventh appearance on Thursday night, as they sport a 3-3 record thus far. The Jaguars will make their fifth Thursday night appearance, as they have a 1-3 record. The Falcons beat the Ravens in their most recent Thursday outing in 2010 by a score 26-21. The Jaguars have lost three straight on Thursday night, including a 31-35 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in 2009, their most recent game. This will be the Jaguars first road test under interim head coach Mel Tucker, who has taken the team to a 1-1 record so far. The team was 1-5 under previous head coach Jack Del Rio in road games against NFC teams in their most recent six outings. Since 2008, the Jaguars are 2-8 in road games directly following a home win. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 7-3 in home games directly following road victories, although they have lost their last three.