The Falcons take their win total to 11 with a 31-10 over the struggling Carolina Panthers. The Falcons can clinch a playoff spot if either the New York Giants or Philadelphia Eagles lost this afternoon. The Falcons got off to a quick start against Carolina, but let the Panthers start to claw their way back into it before putting them out of their misery late.
Matt Ryan led the Falcons, completing 20 of 34 passes for 227 yards with a touchdown and interception. Michael Turner rushed 28 times for 112 yards and 3 scores. Roddy White led receivers with 8 grabs for 79 yards. Tony Gonzalez caught 4 passes for 28 yards and a score. Michael Jenkins and Brian Finneran each added two receptions for 26 and 13 yards, respectively. While the Falcons offense was able to convert 9 of 17 third down attempts and produce 327 total yards, there were times throughout the game where they couldn’t push a big lead against the lowly Panthers and take advantage of a strong defensive effort in the first half.
The game began with Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart fumbling on their first offensive play, forced by Mike Peterson and recovered by Dunta Robinson. The Falcons would score three plays later on Ryan’s touchdown pass to Tony Gonalez. The Falcons would then score on their next offensive series on a Turner 1-yard run. That series was helped by a 46-yard deep strike to Harry Douglas. While the Falcons defense held the Panthers offense in check, the Falcons offense would grow stagnant on their next two series as well. An 18-play, 64-yard drive that lasted almost 9 minutes resulted in a Matt Bryant field goal in the second quarter. The Falcons would get the ball back from the Panthers with less than a minute to go in the first half, but Ryan threw an interception to end the half trying to get the Falcons into field goal range with just seconds left on the clock. The Falcons got the ball to start the second half, but their first series resulted in a quick punt. A 48-yard run by Stewart set up the Panthers for their first touchdown. The Panthers attempt to go for it on fourth down on their next series resulted in a Chauncey Davis sack which gave the Falcons good field position at midfield. Five plays later, Michael Turner was in for 3 yards for his second touchdown of the day to push the lead to 24-7. The Panthers started out the fourth quarter with a field goal, helped by another big run (43 yards) from Stewart. On their next series, Stephen Nicholas tipped a Jimmy Clausen pass into Mike Peterson’s hands for an interception with promising field position at the Panthers 16-yard line. Turner would run it in for his third score four plays later to cap the Falcons win.
Defensively, the Falcons were able to contain the struggling Panthers offense for much of the day but gave up several big runs to Stewart and Goodson on the ground. The Panthers offense did not earn their first first down until two minutes into the second quarter. Carolina finished the game converting only 3 of 13 third downs and were held to 288 total yards, including only 33 in the first half. Thomas DeCoud led the defense with 9 tackles. John Abraham (3 tackles, 2 sacks), Jamaal Anderson (3 tackles), Jonathan Babineaux (4 tackles), Kroy Biermann (2 tackles, 2 sacks), Chauncey Davis (3 tackles, 1 sack), Brent Grimes (3 tackles), Curtis Lofton (5 tackles), William Moore (5 tackles), Stephen Nicholas (4 tackles), Corey Peters (2 tackles), and Mike Peterson (6 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble) all had notable games.
Matt Bryant made his lone attempt of 39 yards. Michael Koenen had 7 punts for an average of 40.4 yards with 3 placed inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems returned 2 punts for 5 yards and 1 kickoff for 23 yards.
Next week the Falcons travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks for their final road game of the season. Their last battle against the Seahawks came in 2007 with a 44-41 Falcons win in the season finale. Prior to that they lost four straight to the Seahawks, including two straight in Seattle. All-time the Falcons are 1-4 on the road vs. the Seahawks, with their lone victory coming in 1997. The Seahawks looked to have a strong home field advantage earlier in the season with wins over the San Francisco 49ers, San Diego Chargers, and Arizona Cardinals, but lost two straight against the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs before rebounding a week ago vs. the Carolina Panthers. This season, the Seahawks are 1-4 against teams that currently have a record above .500.