The Falcons pulled a come from behind squeaker over the Carolina Panthers by a score of 30-28, extending their 2012 record to 4-0. Matt Bryant hit a game-winning 40 yard field goal with 10 seconds left, capping a long drive in the last minute of the game to steal the victory at home.
Matt Ryan had another strong performance despite being sacked 7 times on the day. He finished the game completing 25 of 40 passes for 369 yards, 3 touchdowns, and an interception. His yardage total was just 4 yards shy of matching his career high. On the ground, Michael Turner had another strong performance for the second consecutive rushing for 103 yards on 13 carries (7.9 avg), his first 100-yard outing of the 2012 season. Turner also caught 3 passes for 68 yards, including a 60-yard score, the first receiving touchdown of his nine-year NFL career. Roddy White led receivers with 8 grabs for 169 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Tony Gonzalez (5 catches, 51 yards) and Jacquizz Rodgers (4 catches, 40 yards) also contributed. Julio Jones was held in check for the most part, only catching 1 of 8 passes thrown his way, but it was for a big gain of 30 yards. Bryant made three field goal tries, from 41, 33, and 40 yards out. Matt Bosher punted 5 times for an average of 47 yards, with 2 placed inside the 20-yard line. Dominique Franks had a pair of punt returns for 17 yards, and Rodgers returned his lone kickoff for 27 yards. As mentioned earlier, the Falcons offensive line gave up 7 sacks. The Falcons have given up that many sacks in a game since September 2007 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Defensively, the Falcons did not have a strong performance, but were able to make some stops near the end of the game to turn the tide. Carolina put up 404 yards of total offense, the most given up this season. The Falcons also had their first game of the season where they did not intercept a pass, but they did force three fumbles. But they only managed to recover one. Stephen Nicholas led defenders with 8 tackles. John Abraham (5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble); Jonathan Babineaux (3 tackles, 2 tackles for loss); Thomas DeCoud (4 tackles); Akeem Dent (4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss); Ray Edwards (3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery); William Moore (5 tackles); Dunta Robinson (5 tackles, 1 forced fumble); Vance Walker (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble); and Sean Weatherspoon (4 tackles, 1 sack) all had notable games.
The Falcons did not get off to their trademark fast start, suffering a three-and-out on the opening drive of the game. The drive was ended by the first of several sacks the Falcons gave up, with Charles Johnson and Frank Alexander meeting at the quarterback to force a Falcon punt. The Panthers took over near midfield. On their second play, Cam Newton scrambled 32 yards on a designed run to put the ball in the redzone. Three plays later, he found Greg Olsen who broke a few tackles to score on a 17-yard pass to put the Panthers up 7-0 little more than 3 minutes into the game. The Falcons responded with a long drive of their own. Michael Turner and the ground game got a lot of the work. Turner carried the ball 8 times for a total of 41 yards on the drive. The Falcons were successful at getting the ball to the Panthers’ 1-yard line where Ryan hit an open Tommy Gallarda for a touchdown. But Gallarda was called for offensive pass interference due to a push-off and the ball was pushed back to the 11-yard line. A few plays later, Ryan was sacked for the second time forcing a 3rd & Goal from the Panthers 13-yard line. Ryan’s intended pass to Julio Jones in the endzone was intercepted by Haruki Nakamura who returned it out to the Panther 21-yard line. The defense responded and forced a four-and-out. Turner jumpstarted the offense with a pair of big runs netting the team a combined 28 yards to put the ball at midfield. Ryan then followed with a 49-yard bomb to Roddy White to put the Falcons on the board with only seconds remaining in the first quarter. On the Panthers next offensive play, Steve Smith fumbled on a reverse, forced by Dunta Robinson and recovered by Ray Edwards. The Falcons took over at the Carolina 30-yard line. But pressure once again got to Ryan, as Charles Johnson got his second sack of the day. Four plays later, Ryan’s pass to Jones in the endzone was once again broken up by Nakamura and the Falcons were forced to settle for a 41-yard field goal from Bryant to take a 10-7 lead with 13 minutes remaining in the first half. Carolina responded, letting DeAngelo Williams lead the way on the ground. He toted the ball four times, rushing for 38 yards, including a 13-yard score on the 7-play, 79-yard drive for the Panthers to retake the lead. Newton hit Steve Smith on a 27-yard slant to set up the scoring play where Williams burst up the middle, juking a Falcons defender and ran into the endzone. Both the Falcons and Panthers each had a three-and-out before the Falcons got the ball back at midfield thanks to an 18-yard punt return by Dominique Franks. The Falcons took advantage of the favorable spot with an 8-play, 51-yard drive that was capped off by Ryan hitting White on a slant for a 14-yard score to pull ahead 17-14 before the end of the half. White came up big earlier on that drive by catching a 9-yard pass to convert on 3rd & 5. Carolina wouldn’t take advantage of their opportunity before the half ended, as the Falcons held a three-point lead at the midpoint.
The defense stepped it up at the start of the second half, as Mike Nolan dialed up a blitz on third down to thwart Newton and force a punt. Thomas DeCoud and William Moore provided the pressure that forced Newton to throw the ball away. The Falcons had another quick three-play scoring drive. Ryan hit Michael Turner on a quick dump-off at the line of scrimmage, but he managed to get good downfield blocking from Tony Gonzalez and White and rumbled 60 yards for a score. The Falcons now held a 10-point lead with little more than 10 minutes to go in the third quarter. But the Panthers managed to respond with a scoring drive of their own to cut that lead back to three points. Newton fared better against the blitz on this drive, scrambling up the middle for 15 yards when the Falcons dialed up the pressure on a 3rd & 8 from their own 19-yard line. On the next play, Newton took a draw 4 yards up the middle to put the Panthers on the board. The Falcons’ next drive was thwarted once again by pressure, with Charles Johnson’s sack of Ryan forcing a 3rd & 16. Harry Douglas dropped the open pass and the Falcons were forced to punt the ball back to Carolina as the fourth quarter began. Newton managed to hit Steve Smith along the sideline for a 6-yard gain on a 3rd & 5, but Mike Smith challenged the catch and it was overturned when the officials saw that Smith only had one foot inbounds. The Panthers punted, and the Falcons took over at their own 18-yard line. The drive began well with Turner bursting left for a big 27-yard gain. Two runs by Jacquizz Rodgers put the Falcons in a favorable 3rd & 5 at the Panther 36-yard line, but Ryan was sacked again, this time by Greg Hardy pushing them out of field goal range. The Panthers hit on a big play on the first play of the ensuing series, as Newton found Greg Olsen open for a 34-yard catch and run to get the ball near midfield. Three runs for 23 yards and the Panthers were firmly in Falcon territory. Vance Walker managed to pressure Newton and strip him from behind but the Panthers managed to recover at the Falcon 36-yard line to set up a 3rd & 10. But the Falcons defense looked discombobulated on the next play as Keoloha Pilares burst down the sideline practically untouched on a 36-yard screen for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 28-24 lead with 8 minutes left in the game. On the third play of the next drive, Ryan scrambled left and found an open Jones for a 30-yard gain to get the ball to midfield. Ryan found Rodgers on two straight passes for 24 yards to get the ball into the redzone, as the falcons were also aided by a 15-yard facemask penalty against Josh Norman. But Ryan was sacked by Alexander on the next play. Ryan’s pass to Jones was broken up by Norman on the next play forcing a 3rd & 19 from the Panther 22. Ryan could only get 7 yards on a pass to Rodgers to set up a 33-yard field goal by Bryant with 5 minutes left. Bryant’s kick was good and the Falcons were hoping their defense could step up on the next drive to get them the ball back. They did indeed, forcing a Panther three-and-out. Now the Falcons took over at their own 29-yard line with 3:16 left in the game. But the offense couldn’t take advantage. Ryan threw deep down the sideline on the first play of the series to Jones, but Jones foot was out of bounds by a mere inch, negating what could have been a gain of over 40 yards. Two plays later on 3rd & 3, Ryan made a bad decision and took a sack by Charles Johnson going out of bounds to force a Falcon punt. The Panthers took over at their own 32-yard line with 2:26 remaining. The Panthers did gain a first down on a 10-yard scramble by Newton, but the two-minute warning hit as the Falcons had only two timeouts remaining. The Panthers handed the ball off to DeAngelo Williams on a pair of 4-yard runs on the next two plays, forcing the Falcons to use their remaining timeouts. On 3rd & 2 at the Falcons 46-yard line, Newton scrambled left and managed to get past the first down marker, but he was stripped of the ball by John Abraham. While Newton’s body managed to get past the first down marker, the ball did not as Carolina was able to recover a yard shy. On 4th & 1, the Panthers tried to draw the Falcons off-sides, but it did not work. So instead theypunted with 1:09 left in the game, and Kenny Onatolu did an excellent job downing the ball at the 1-yard line. With the game looking to be out of reach with a minute remaining and the entire field to go, Matt Ryan pulled magic from his back pocket and found an open Roddy White deep on a 59-yard bomb to put the ball in Carolina territory. Ryan missed on a pass to Jones on the next play. He tried to go back to Jones and this time Captain Munnerlyn bumped the second-year receiver to draw the defensive pass interference penalty. That gave the Falcons a new set of downs at Carolina’s 35-yard line. Ryan went back to the sideline on the next two plays, finding an open Tony Gonzalez and then Harry Douglas for gains of 7 and 6 yards, respectively. With 10 seconds on the clock, Bryant trotted out onto the field and nailed a 40-yard game-winning kick right down the middle of the uprights to give the Falcons a 2-point lead with only 5 ticks on the clock. The Panthers would have one more shot, hoping to pull a miracle on a Hail Mary, but John Abraham proved too fast for their line, and he brought Newton down for a sack to end the game.
The Falcons hope to push their record to 5-0 for the first time in franchise history with a road win next week against the Washington Redskins. The Falcons have beaten the Redskins the last two times they played them, including their most recent victory: a 31-17 thumping in 2009. The Falcons have also won both of their two most recent road games against the Redskins. Washington has lost seven straight home games dating back to last year. Their last home victory came in a 1-point victory over the Arizona Cardinals on September 18 of last year. Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan and Mike Smith have only squared off once, with Shanahan (as Broncos head coach) defeating the Falcons in 2008, Atlanta’s only home loss of that season.