The Falcons fall to 5-4 with a tough division loss to the Carolina Panthers by a score of 28-19. The Falcons got off to a slow start and were on the verge of mounting a comeback, but a missed field goal by Jason Elam and an interception by Matt Ryan ruined their chances.
Ryan completed 22 of 41 passes for 224 yards, but threw 2 picks and a touchdown. On the ground, Michael Turner led the team with 111 yards on 19 carries, but was sidelined in the second quarter with a high ankle sprain and did not return. Jason Snelling picked up much of the slack, finishing the day with 61 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown. Roddy White led receivers with 7 catches for 98 yards. Tony Gonzalez added 6 grabs for 67 yards. Justin Peelle caught the Falcons only passing score, and finished with 2 catches for 12 yards. The Falcons pass protection improved from recent weeks despite left tackle Sam Baker missing the game, as they gave up no sacks on the day. Ryan’s scoring pass to Peelle came on a 4th and 1 attempt on the Panthers 3-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter to cut the Panthers lead 21-19. The defense made a stop, but the Panthers were able to pin the Falcons deep in their own territory. Starting out at their own 4, they drove down the field to get to the Panthers 16. But a failed QB sneak on the 3rd and 1 forced head coach Mike Smith to challenge the spot, which came up empty. And when Elam trotted out on the field for the 34-yarder, he missed it wide left. The Falcons defense made another stop, and Eric Weems was able to make a good 24-yard return to set up the Falcons offense with the ball at midfield. But Matt Ryan threw an interception on an attempt to Michael Jenkins. Three plays later, Jonathan Stewart rushed 45 yards for a score to put the game out of reach with two minutes remaining.
Defensively, the Falcons gave up a lot of yards on the ground as the Panthers rushed for 185 yards. But they were unable to force any turnovers, but they did improve their play in the second half. Until Stewart’s big run, they had limited their offense to 113 total yards in the second half. The Panthers were 5 of 7 on third down conversions in the first half, but were 2 of 6 in the second half. Erik Coleman led defenders with 10 tackles and the team’s lone pass defense. Jamaal Anderson (4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss), Thomas DeCoud (3 tackles), Brent Grimes (5 tackles), Curtis Lofton (6 tackles), and Mike Peterson (6 tackles, 1 tackle for loss) had noteworthy games.
Special teams had its ups and downs. Elam hit on 35 and 24-yard field goals until his miss late. Michael Koenen had 2 punts that averaged 54.5 yards, with 1 placed inside the 20. Weems averaged 18.5 yards on 2 punt returns and 28 yards on his lone kickoff return. Chauncey Davis blocked a 51-yard field goal in the third quarter, which prompted the drive that allowed the Falcons to cut the lead to two points.
Next week the Falcons will hope to rebound in a tough NFC matchup with the New York Giants (5-4). The good news is the Falcons play the Giants on the road and since 1981 in their last twelve meetings, the road team has won that football game. The Giants have won the last two of the series, which were played in Atlanta in 2006 and 2007. But previously, the Falcons beat the Giants for three straight in road games from 2002-04. With both teams having 5-4 records, this game likely has playoff implications.