Gonzalez Bids Farewell in Falcons 21-20 Loss to Panthers

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons owner Arthur Blank honors Tony Gonzalez at halftime

The Atlanta Falcons finished a disappointing 2013 season with a disappointing 21-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers at home. The Falcons record fell to 4-12, their first losing record under head coach Mike Smith in six seasons. The home loss also marked the farewell game of tight end Tony Gonzalez, who heads to retirement after 17 Hall of Fame-worthy seasons in the NFL. Gonzalez played his last five here in Atlanta after a dozen in Kansas City with the Chiefs. He finishes his career as the all-time leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns for tight ends.

Matt Ryan got off to a good start and finished the game completing 28 of 40 passes for 280 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Steven Jackson led rushers with 41 yards on 13 carries, and also added five receptions for 53 yards. Roddy White led receivers with eight grabs for 91 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown. Jason Snelling snagged Ryan’s other touchdown pass on a nine-yard score, and finished the game with a pair of catches for 15 yards. Gonzalez finished with four catches for 56 yards, while Harry Douglas added seven catches for 58 yards. Matt Bryant connected on both of his field goal tries from 42 and 37 yards. Matt Bosher punted five times for an average of 48.4 yards, placing two of his punts inside the 20-yard line. Robert McClain had a trio of punt returns for 34 yards, while none of the Panthers kickoffs were returned thanks to four touchbacks. The Falcons was able to generate 307 total yards, but were limited by nine sacks allowed. It marked the largest sack allowance since December 2001. Ryan’s interception also gifted Carolina seven points due to an eight-yard return on a pick-six by Panthers cornerback Melvin White. The Falcons were unable to score touchdowns on two of their three red zone trips, but did manage to convert 44 percent of 16 third-down conversion tries.

Defensively, the Falcons were sharp, only allowed 283 total yards by the Panthers. However, 134 yards came on the ground as the Falcons struggled to handle the scrambling ability of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Newton led his team with 72 yards rushing. The Falcons did generate two turnovers, with William Moore intercepting a tipped pass and Desmond Trufant recovering a fumble by DeAngelo Williams. But the Panthers were able to convert both of their red zone trips into touchdowns and converted 47 percent of their 15 third-down attempts. Paul Worrilow led the team with 13 tackles and tallied the team’s lone sack and hit on the quarterback on the day. Robert Alford (three tackles, one forced fumble); Jonathan Babineaux (four tackles); Joplo Bartu (six tackles, two tackle for loss); Peria Jerry (three tackles, one tackle for loss); Jonathan Massaquoi (four tackles); Cliff Matthews (four tackles); William Moore (two tackles, one interception); Stephen Nicholas (four tackles); and Desmond Trufant (five tackles, one pass deflection, one fumble recovery) had noteworthy performances.

The Falcons kicked off their opening possession with five-yard catch to Gonzalez. That was followed up two plays later with a 17-yard completion to Jackson to move the chains. Jackson would later convert a 3rd-and-1 with a 17-yard run to put the ball at the Panthers’ six-yard line. Three plays later, Ryan found Snelling on a nine-yard touchdown pass to take the early 7-0 lead on an 11-play, 80-yard drive. Ryan completed all seven of his pass attempts on the drive for a combined 62 yards.

The Falcons defense responded with a three-and-out as Worrilow delivered a hit on Newton on second down which forced an incompletion. Newton’s third-down pass was overthrown to Brandon LaFell and Carolina punted. McClain set up the Falcons in favorable field position with a 23-yard return.

Atlanta began the drive at their 48-yard line, but were pushed back on first down with a Greg Hardy sack, Carolina’s second of the game. That led to a three-and-out on the Falcons’ part and Bosher punted the ball right back to Carolina.

Carolina was able to convert their first third-down attempt on the ensuing series thanks to a Newton sneak up the middle. But Osi Umenyiora was able to trip up scrambling Newton on their next third down to prevent a conversion on 3rd-and-11.

The Panthers were able to get pressure on Ryan again, as Star Lotulelei’s second-down sack pushed the team back to a difficult 3rd-and-20. And Bosher punted once more after a four-and-out near the end of the first quarter.

The first quarter officially came to a close after Worrilow sacked Newton on the opening play of the next Panther series. Newton was able to convert the 3rd-and-10 two plays later however with a 16-yard scramble. But two plays later, he was high on a throw to Domenik Hixon, which tipped off the receivers’ hands and into those of Falcons safety William Moore.

Atlanta took over at their 45-yard line, which prompted a nine-play scoring drive by the Falcons. However, the Falcons were unable to score a touchdown once they entered the red zone thanks to Hardy’s second sack of the game on 3rd-and-8 at Carolina’s 18-yard line. That set up a 42-yard field goal from Matt Bryant, giving Atlanta a 10-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half.

Carolina offense seemed to finally get things going as running back DeAngelo Williams burst off the right side on a swing pass for a 56-yard gain. But Alford caught him from behind, and stripped him of the ball, saving a potential touchdown. Trufant fell on the ball and the Falcons took over at their four-yard line. But that was followed up quickly by a Falcons turnover, as Ryan suffered a miscommunication with Douglas two plays later. Douglas broke inside when Ryan threw outside into the waiting arms of Melvin White, who stumbled eight yards for a defensive touchdown for Carolina. The cut Atlanta’s lead to 10-7 with 7:57 left in the first half.

The Falcons were unable to take advantage on their ensuing drive despite a 19-yard catch from Gonzalez on third down and 16-yard run by Snelling to move the ball into Panther territory. Bosher punted it back to Carolina, and long snapper Josh Harris was able to down the ball at the four-yard line.

The poor field position didn’t affect Carolina too much as they mounted a 13-play, 96-yard scoring drive. Newton shook off his funk, completing five of seven passes for 35 yards and rushing three times for 14 yards. However the key play of the drive was a pass interference call on Alford following an overthrow of Hixon that gave Carolina a first down at Atlanta’s 31-yard line. Mike Tolbert then burst up the middle for a 17-yard gain to set up a three-yard scoring toss from Newton to Ted Ginn to finish the drive. Carolina took their first lead of the game with 19 seconds left in the half, and Atlanta was content to kneel on the ball to go into halftime.

Carolina started the third quarter with a 19-yard completion to DeAngelo Williams, but were unable to convert three plays later on third down, leading to a Brad Nortman punt.

Steven Jackson caught a 25-yard pass on the second play of the ensuing Falcons possession to get the ball near midfield. A roughing the passer call on Dwan Edwards put the ball in Panther territory. A holding call on center Joe Hawley negated a 15-yard completion to Douglas two plays later. But the Falcons were able to recover two plays later as Ryan connected with White on a 39-yard bomb for the touchdown. Atlanta retook the lead, 17-14, with 9:50 left in the third quarter.

But the Panthers would not be outdone. Newton scrambled 10 yards on 3rd-and-2 to move the chains, and benefited from a late hit out of bounds penalty on Worrilow that tacked on another 15 yards. That put the ball in Falcon territory and after a 24-yard run by Williams up the middle, the Panthers had the ball at the eight-yard line. Three plays later, Newton had loads of time to find Greg Olsen over the middle for a seven-yard touchdown catch.

Following the Panthers’ score, both teams traded three-and-outs to close out the third quarter. The Falcons failed drive was prompted by a pair of sacks by Charles Johnson and Hardy. At the start of the fourth quarter, the Falcons were able to move the ball thanks a 13-yard catch by White on 3rd-and-10 to move the chains. Two plays later, Douglas made a 12-yard grab to put it in Carolina territory. Ryan dialed up White again on 3rd-and-9 a few plays later, who made a nice 8-yard catch. That set up a 4th-and-1, where head coach Mike Smith opted to go for it and Jackson was able to convert on a five-yard run. That put the ball in the red zone, but the Falcons couldn’t convert thanks to a dropped pass by White on 3rd-and-10. That set up a Bryant field goal from 37 yards, cutting Carolina’s lead to 21-20 with 7:10 to go.

The Falcons defense was able to get the stop they needed, forcing a Panther punt 3:21 left in the game. But the Falcons offense couldn’t take advantage due to poor blocking. On second down, safety Mike Mitchell sacked Ryan on a blitz. Charles Johnson got to Ryan on third down for his second sack and the team’s ninth of the game. The Falcons punted at the two-minute hoping for a quick stop with all three of their timeouts remaining.

The defense got said stop, stopping Newton on a two-yard sweep on 3rd-and-9, but was forced to burn their final timeout after he was tackled in bounds. After another Nortman punt, the Falcons took over at their 12-yard line with 1:20 left in the game.

Ryan connected on his first four passes for a combined 31 yards to get the ball to the Falcons’ 43-yard line. But a miscommunication between him and Hawley led to a premature snap and fumble with 31 seconds left. Snelling fell on the loose ball at the 27-yard line and the Falcons had just nine seconds left on the clock to try and get into field goal range. Ryan’s final completion came on a nine-yard pass to Gonzalez a play later. But on 3rd-and-22 with five seconds left, Ryan overthrew White and the game was over.

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Aaron Freeman
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