The Falcons earned their third win of the season with a 31-17 win over the Carolina Panthers to get their first victory in the NFC South. The Falcons record now moves to 3-3.
Matt Ryan passed for 163 yards while completing 14 of 22 passes with a touchdown. He also had a rushing touchdown on the day as well. But the Falcons were led on the ground by Michael Turner who had 139 yards on 27 carries with 2 touchdowns. Tony Gonzalez led receivers with 3 catches for 29 yards. Harry Douglas, Roddy White, and Ovie Mughelli each caught a pair of passes from Ryan for 57, 21, and 20 yards respectively. Mughelli caught Ryan’s lone touchdown pass. Matt Bryant connected on a 24-yard field goal, his lone attempt of the day. Matt Bosher punted 3 times for an average of 43 yards, with 2 punts inside the 20. Eric Weems returned a kickoff for 22 yards and a punt for 8 yards.
Defensively, the Falcons forced three turnovers and held the Panthers to only scoring two touchdowns on 5 trips into the redzone. Thomas DeCould led defenders with 8 tackles and also added an interception. Ray Edwards (3 tackles, 1 sack), Brent Grimes (4 tackles, 1 INT), Kelvin Hayden (4 tackles), Curtis Lofton (7 tackles, 1 pass defended), William Moore (5 tackles, 2 passes defended, 1 forced fumble), Stephen Nicholas (4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble), Corey Peters (1 tackle, 1 INT), and Sean Weatherspoon (5 tackles, 1 pass defended) all had noteworthy games.
The Falcons did not get off to a great start on their first series, able to move the ball a bit on their early plays, but stalled on a 3rd & 3 at midfield, leading to a punt. The Panthers responded with a long drive for nearly 7 minutes, going 64 yards on 13 plays. Ultimately, they were forced to settle for a 42-yard field goal from Olindo Mare to take a 3-0 lead. The Falcons responded well with a scoring drive of their own, capped off by a 1-yard plunge by Michael Turner for a touchdown to take the lead. Penalties helped on the series with the Panthers being flagged four times, including a pass interference called on Carolina safety Charles Godfrey against Roddy White when Ryan threw a deep pass to him in the endzone. It set up Turner’s one-yard run on the next play. The Panthers got the ball back at the outset of the second quarter, and were able to score their own touchdown on a 9-play, 81-yard drive, ending with a 1-yard run by Jonathan Stewart. The Falcons answered back with a 12-play, 80-yard drive of their own. Two third down conversions and another pass interference call against the Panthers set up the Falcons at Carolina’s 1-yard line. Two plays later, Ryan hit an open Ovie Mughelli on a rollout to take the lead, 14-10. The Panthers looked to respond, with less than 4 minutes to go. They moved the ball down to the Falcons 10-yard line with just 42 seconds to go. But Cam Newton’s pass to Steve Smith in the endzone was tipped by William Moore into the hands of Brent Grimes. The Falcons had a three-and-out to close out the first half with the halftime lead.
At the outset of the second half, the Panthers had another long drive, consuming over 8 minutes of clock on 13 plays for 80 yards. The Panthers converted 3 first downs before Cam Newton scrambled untouched on a blitz from 14 yards out. THe Falcons had little success on their next drive, leading to another Bosher punt. But the defense held with a three-and-out to get the ball back at midfield as the third quarter waned. They were able to move the ball down to the 2-yard line, but Matt Ryan was sacked on third down, forcing Bryant’s 24-yard field goal to tie the game at 17-apiece. The defense held again with the Panthers getting a four-and-out. The Falcons took advantage. While at midfield a few plays into the drive, Ryan hit Harry Douglas for a 34-yard gain on 3rd & 12 to put the team at the Panther 13-yard line. Four plays later, Ryan ran in from the one on a sneak to take the lead with 7 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. On the second play of the Panthers next offensive series, Corey Peters made a one-handed interception on a screen pass to give the Falcons the ball right back at the Panther 39-yard line. Turner helped eat clock with four straight runs of a combined 25 yards. Ryan hit Michael Palmer on a 3rd & 6 to put the team at the 4-yard line. And Turner only needed two more runs before he was in the endzone for his second touchdown of the day. The Panthers did get the ball back with under 2 minutes to go and did get the ball down to the Falcon 16-yard line before Thomas DeCoud picked off the final pass in the endzone to end the game.
Next week, the Falcons travel to Detroit to take on the Lions, who are 5-1. Their last outing against the Lions was their 2008 season opener which was a 34-21 beatdown. Prior to that, the Falcons split their last 6 meetings with the Lions dating back to 1998. In that span, they have played four times in Detroit, and won twice. Their most recent road matchup was a 30-14 loss in 2006. The Falcons are 5-5 under Mike Smith in regular season road games against teams with winning records.