Offense struggles again in loss to Panthers

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan is disappointed

The Falcons dropped their second game of the 2012 season with a 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The Falcons record goes to 11-2. The Falcons looked lackluster with another poor offensive effort following a 10-day layoff from their last game. They were shut out in the first half, down 16-0, the first time that’s happened to the team since 2009, and the first time it has occurred with Matt Ryan at the helm.

Matt Ryan had a lackluster performance, despite completing 34 of 49 passes for 342 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. On the ground, Jacquizz Rodgers led the team with 21 yards on 4 carries. Michael Turner added 7 carries for 14 yards and a touchdown. Roddy White led receivers with 9 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. Tony Gonzalez (8 catches, 61 yards), Rodgers (6 catches, 43 yards), and Julio Jones (5 catches, 66 yards, and a TD) also were key contributors. Matt Bryant attempted no field goal tries on the day. Matt Bosher punted 4 times on the Falcons first 4 possessions for an average of 42 yards, with 1 placed inside the 20-yard line. Jacquizz Rodgers returned 2 kickoffs for 42 yards, and they returned neither of the pair of Brad Nortman punts for the Panthers. Offensively, the team struggled on 3rd down for the second week in a row, converting only 2 of 8 tries. The Falcons could not sustain drives early in the game, only possessing the ball for a total of 6 minutes in the first half.

Defensively, the Falcons could not get off the field on third downs. The Panthers wound up converting 9 of 15 third down tries and produced 475 yards of total offense, including 195 on the ground. The Falcons defense did do a good job in the redzone keeping the Panthers out of the endzone, forcing field goals on both of their redzone entries. But two big plays resulted in the Panthers two second half touchdowns, which helped put the game out of reach for the struggling Falcons offense. Stephen Nicholas led defenders with 9 tackles. Kroy Biermann (4 tackles); Thomas DeCoud (4 tackles); Akeem Dent (8 tackles); Robert McClain (8 tackles); Chris Owens (5 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass deflection); Dunta Robinson (8 tackles, 1 pass deflection); Vance Walker (2 tackles, 1 sack); and Sean Weatherspoon (7 tackles) had noteworthy games.

The game began with a long, 11-play, 77-yard drive by the Panthers that consumed over 7 minutes of the first quarter. Cam Newton hit Steve Smith to convert on a quick slant. Three plays later, Newton scrambled up the middle for a 6-yard gain. A reverse to Joe Adams on the next play was stopped by John Abraham a yard shy to set up 3rd & 1. But Mike Tolbert powered through a tackle on the next play for a 7-yard gain to convert the third down. Three plays later, Newton connected with Greg Olsen on a back-shoulder throw for a 25-yard scoring strike over Thomas DeCoud. The Falcons took a 7-0 lead. The Falcons followed up with Gonzalez getting an 8-yard catch on second down to convert for a first down. But Ryan would get sacked on the next play by Frank Kearse. Ryan’s next pass would be an overthrow to Antone Smith on a screen pass. He checked down to D.J. Davis for a 6-yard gain on 3rd & 18 to force Bosher’s first punt. A steady ground attack would get the Panthers in Falcon territory with another long drive to eat away the last 5 minutes of the first quarter. Newton ran up the middle for a 2-yard gain to convert a 4th & 1 to close out the quarter. Three plays later, Corey Peters would get penetration and get Cam Newton in the grasp on the sack, but Newton spun out, made a couple of defenders miss, and managed to run 14 yards for the first down on 3rd & 11. Two plays later, Louis Murphy would catch a Newton pass for 16 yards to put the ball inside the Falcons 10-yard line. Sean Weatherspoon would trip up DeAngelo Williams on the draw play on the next play. Newton would miss to Murphy in the back of the endzone on the next play. Then pressure would get to him as Mike Nolan dialed up a blitz and hwas forced to throw it away on third down. The Panthers would set for a 24-yard field goal from Graham Gano to go up 10-0. All in all, the Panthers had held the ball for over 9 minutes for 17 plays, and 72 yards on that scoring drive. The Falcons next series was a three-and-out as Ryan’s pass to Michael Palmer on 3rd & 5 came up a yard short of the sticks. Newton would hit Steve Smith on a crossing pattern for 20 yards on first down of the next Panthers drive. Smith would then beat Chris Owens on the next play for a 15-yard completion. Two plays later, Newton would get dropped by Vance Walker for the sack, putting hte Panthers at the Falcons 30-yard line. On third down, Newton would overthrow Steve Smith and once again Gano came on the field to convert a 41-yard field goal. The kick was good and the Panthers now had a 13-0 lead with just 5 minutes left in the first half. On the first play of the Falcons next series, Ryan would find Rodgers on a checkdown for 9 yards, breaking a couple of tackles. Three plays later, while trying to escape the pocket, Ryan’s checkdown to Rodgers would fall short. The Panthers blitzed on the next play, and Ryan hit his hot read in Tony Gonzalez, but he is easily stopped by D.J. Campbell for no gain to force the punt. The Panthers took over with 3:35 left in the half at their own 28-yard line. As the two-minute warning hit, Newton scrambled off the right side for a 21-yard gain on 3rd & 6. Louis Murphy would beat Dunta Robinson deep on a double move, but Newton would miss the wide open touchdown pass, overthrowing him. Two plays later, Steve Smith would beat Owens on the deep out for 19 yards. Five plays later with the Panthers having a 1st & 15 at the Falcons 19-yard line, Newton would hit Murphy along the sideline in the endzone. But Murphy was only able to get a single foot down inbounds resulting an incomplete pass. An incomplete pass to Olsen on the next play would set up a 3rd & 15. Newton’s pass to Murphy was stopped for just a 6-yard gain. And Gano would hit his third field goal of the game from 31 yards to close out the first half.

To start the third quarter, the Falcons went into no huddle mode. Ryan hit Roddy White for his first two receptions on the opening two plays for a combined 28 yards. But three plays later, on 3rd & 7, Ryan tried stepping up in the pocket but wound up overthrowing Harry Douglas. And the Falcons fourth possession ended in a punt. On the third play of the Panthers series, Mike Tolbert bust up the middle for a 5-yard gain to convert on 3rd & 1. On the next play, Cam Newton kept the ball and rushed virtually untouched 72 yards down the left side for a touchdown. That quick score put the Panthers up 23-0 with 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter. A 6-yard handoff to Jacquizz Rodgers started the next Falcons series. Ryan then converted on second down with a 9-yard comeback to Julio Jones. That was followed by a 5-yard run by Rodgers. Ryan hit Gonzalez on the next play for a 16-yard gain to put the ball in Panther territory. White, Gonzalez, and then Rodgers would touch the ball on the next three plays to put the ball inside the Panthers redzone. On second down, Ryan missed Jason Snelling in the flat on an overthrow. Pressure got to Ryan on the next play, and his out pass to Gonzalez on 3rd & 4 fell incomplete. The Falcons opted to go for it on 4th & 4 from the Panthers 13 yard line. Ryan hit Snelling on a shovel pass and he rumbled 5 yards to convert. Two plays later, Ryan hit Roddy on a crossing pattern for the 4-yard touchdown pass. The Falcons got on the board for the first time of the game with 4:50 remaining on the third quarter clock. Steve Smith gained 16 yards on a Newton pass to start the next Panthers series. DeCoud would wrap up DeAngelo Williams in the backfield for a 2-yard loss on the next play. Two plays later, Newton would overthrow Smith on 3rd & 4 and the Panthers would be forced to punt for the first time. The Falcons now took over at their own 20-yard line with 2:38 left in the quarter. Ryan hit Roddy for a 14-yard gain on 2nd & 7 on the third play of that series. Ryan took a deep shot to Roddy, but the receiver stumbled and the ball was overthrown. Two plays later, Ryan would find White again for an 18-yard completion on a deep comeback. To close out the third quarter, Ryan would hit Julio Jones who made an excellent diving grab over the middle for a 21-yard gain. Ryan took another shot at Jones on the next play, but Jones cannot secure the fingertip grab going out of bounds. The Falcons would convert their first third down of the day two plays later with an 11-yard completion to Gonzalez. That put the ball at the Panther 11-yard line, which the Falcons took advantage of with a bubble screen to Julio Jones who scored thanks to a couple of good blocks by Todd McClure, Justin Blalock, and Harry Douglas. The Falcons went for two following the score, hoping to make it a one score game with 14 minutes left. Ryan sprint out on the play and found Roddy White going out of bounds. What looked to be a catch was ruled incomplete due to the ref indicating that White bobbled the ball as he was going to the ground. The play was challenged by Mike Smith, but the refs did not overturn the highly questionable call. And thus the Falcons were still down 10 points, 23-13. The Panthers began to try and run out the clock with 2 runs for 8 yards on their next series. But Newton again would convert on 3rd down with a 7-yard pass to Smith. He would then hit Olsen on the next play for 18 yards on a pass over the middle. Two plays later, Louis Murphy would drop a pass along the sideline near the sticks. But Ron Rivera challenges the ruling, and it’s overturned. Instead, the play is ruled a fumble by Murphy instead of a drop, and the Panthers convert the first down. Chris Owens gets credit with the forced fumble on the play. Two plays later the Panther drive stalls on third down thanks to Dunta Robinson breaking up a pass to Smith. The Panthers punt is fair caught by Dominique Franks at the 10-yard line. Ryan went back to the Roddy well on the next series, hitting him on the two opening plays for a combined 21 yards. Harry Douglas would get into the act with a 19-yard grab on the next play. Turner rushed for 5 yards on the next play. But then on 2nd & 5, Greg Hardy would sack Ryan. Ryan would check down to Rodgers on 3rd & 12 to get 4 yards back to try and set up a makeable 4th down try. Pressure would flush Ryan out of the pocket, and throwing off his back foot, he could not get enough on the ball. That allowed Thomas Davis to step in front of the pass to White for the interception, essentially ending any hopes of a miracle finish for the Falcons with 6:19 to go. The Falcons defense would get a stop on their next series, with a Newton pass to Armanti Edwards going for only 4 yards on 3rd & 9. But Robinson would be called for defensive holding against Edwards, giving the Panthers a first down near midfield with about 5 minutes to go in the game. On the next play, Newton would hit the screen to DeAngelo Williams, who with help from a couple of missed tackles would run 53 yards for a touchdown icing the game. The Panthers took a 30-13 lead with 4 minutes left in the game. Ryan would try and take a deep shot to Jones on first down of the ensuing Falcons series, but it would be overthrown. Jones would extend high in the air to make an excellent grab in traffic for a 17-yard gain on the next play. Ryan would hit Tony Gonzalez on a pair of 6-yard plays, followed by a 10-yard pass to Douglas, and then a 11-yarder to Chase Coffman. Two plays later, a checkdown to Rodgers for 8 yards would give the Falcons another first down with the two-minute warning hitting. Ryan’s pass out of the break was a 17-yarder to White that put the ball at the Panthers 1-yard line. Ryan took a shot to Jones in the endzone, but it was knocked away by Josh Thomas. Ryan’s next pass went over the head of a crossing Kevin Cone. On the third down, Ryan tried a quick slant to Gonzalez that was incomplete, but Captain Munnerlyn was called for pass interference. That gave the Falcons a first down at the 1, and on Turner’s second rush he was able to score the 1-yard plunge. With less than a minute left in the game, Bosher’s onside attempt was easily covered by Jordan Senn. The Panthers opted to kneel on the ball on the last two plays and the game was over.

Next week, the Falcons will be hosting the New York Giants. Their last contest against the Giants was a rough one, a 24-2 loss on the road in last year’s playoffs. The Falcons have lost 7 straight home games against the Giants going back to 1981, and three straight in the Georgia Dome. Overall, the Falcons have lost four straight against the Giants. Their last victory was a road win in 2004 by a score of 14-10. Prior to the arrival of Mike Smith, the road team won the Falcons-Giants matchup 12 straight times going back to 1982. Since Smith’s arrival in 2008, the Falcons have lost both contests against New York, both of them coming on the road. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 8-0 in home games following road losses. They have won 11 straight games following losses of any kind, and are 19-3 overall under Smith under those circumstances.

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Aaron Freeman
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