What a catastrophe. This isn't going to be a sunny recap, because I'm not in a sunny mood after watching that game.
In the first quarter, the Falcons weren't particularly productive, and made some costly, foolish mistakes. After going three-and-out on the first drive, which only featured two handoffs and one short pass to Steven Jackson, Atlanta's defense forced a three and out and looked very stout against the Panthers to start. Matt Ryan ended Atlanta's subsequent possession with an interception that was thoroughly a bad decision on Ryan's part, as Tony Gonzalez was triple-covered.
The Panthers turned that interception into a score, with a little help along the way from Atlanta's defense. After taking over on the Atlanta 39, the Panthers moved into the red zone efficiently. After a three yard pass to DeAngelo Williams, and a three yard rush by Mike Tolbert, Cam Newton took a shot at the end zone on a pass to Brandon LaFell. The pass went incomplete, but Desmond Trufant was called for defensive pass interference, giving the Panthers a fresh set of downs. Tolbert punched it in for a touchdown and celebrated with a really stupid version of the Dirty Bird, and the Panthers led 7-0.
The Falcons sustained a nice drive through the remainder of the first quarter, and started the second quarter on the Carolina two-yard line. Steven Jackson rushed for a touchdown, but because the Falcons aren't allowed to have nice things, the touchdown was called back thanks to a holding call on Garrett Reynolds. The Falcons settled for a touchdown, making the score 7-3.
Atlanta's defense was actually pretty stout in the second quarter, They managed to get a nice push up front consistently, bringing pressure on Newton, and they were tougher against the run than they have been consistently as of late. On Carolina's first possession of the second quarter, Desmond Trufant picked Newton off on the Atlanta five yard line. Steven Jackson had an eight yard gain on the first down carry, but a holding call on Lamar Holmes on second down would prove detrimental, and the Falcons could not convert a first down. Because they were backed up in their own territory, Matt Bosher's punt to the Carolina 42, and Ted Ginn's return to the Atlanta 34, where he was pushed out of bounds by Matt Bosher, gave Carolina great field position.
It wasn't terribly hard for the Panthers to score when they just had to move the ball 34 yards, and Atlanta's defense was at a disadvantage with such a short field. A 14 yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen made it a 14-3 game.
There was a spark of hope as the Falcons scored their first touchdown of the day on the next possession. The Falcons were pretty effective on the ground and through the air, moving it from their own 20 into the red zone. On the first snap after the two minute warning, Matt Ryan completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez, pulling the Falcons within four points of the Panthers.
After a touchback on the kick, the Panthers took over on their own 20. With some help from a "pass interference" call which looked less like contact from Trufant and more like Brandon LaFell falling down, the Panthers got into the red zone with 20 seconds remaining in the half. Newton took a shot at the end zone, with a pass intended for Steve Smith, and Robert Alford pulled off a beautiful interception. It was initially ruled an incomplete pass, however, the review showed that Alford had gotten both feet down. Atlanta kneeled to end the half.
It's not even emotionally easy to recap the third quarter. The Panthers received the ball to start the half, and commenced an eight-play, three minute drive that resulted in a 55 yard field goal, extending their lead to 17-10. The Falcons went three and out on their next possession. The Panthers managed to drive to the Atlanta 43 yard line on their next offensive effort, but were forced to punt. Robert McClain received the punt with a fair catch on Atlanta's six yard line.
Steven Jackson rushed for 13 yards on first down, and then Matt Ryan completed a 32 yard pass to Harry Douglas. Things were looking up for the Falcons offense! Except that the Falcons, and their fans, are not allowed to have nice things this season. Matt Ryan threw another interception, intended for Harry Douglas, who was triple-covered. The ball was accurately thrown, because it bounced off of Douglas's hands before being intercepted, but because of so many defenders in the area, it wasn't a great decision by Ryan. Yes, Roddy White or Julio Jones, both very physical receivers, might make that catch, but Harry Douglas, bless his heart, is not Roddy White or Julio Jones.
Atlanta's defense held Carolina, and they were forced to punt to end the third quarter, but the Falcons went three-and-out, and punted the ball right back to the Panthers. The Falcons helped the Panthers a little bit on this drive with a penalty for having 12 defensive players on the field. On third down, Cam Newton completed a pass to Brandon LaFell, and as LaFell was running for the end zone, Asante Samuel caught up with him and stripped the ball. Alford fell on it in an attempt to recover, but instead pushed it back into LaFell's arms, which is kind of a metaphor for this whole season. Cam Newton scored on the next play, an eight-yard rushing touchdown, because of course he did.
On Atlanta's next possession, Ryan completed a short pass to Steven Jackson that Jackson took for 14 yards before being pushed out of bounds, and on second down, Ryan threw a pick six. It was just that kind of game. They all feel like that kind of game these days.
Jacquizz Rodgers received the kick for a touchback, and after short gains on the first and second downs, Matt Ryan was sacked for a loss of eight yards and the Falcons were forced to punt. Carolina, helped along by a face mask penalty on Akeem Dent, drove deep into Falcons territory, all the way to Atlanta's two yard line, but the defense held them to a field goal, mercifully.
The Falcons received the kick with 1:25 remaining in the game, but what did it matter, really? The game ended on a Jacquizz Rodgers fumble. How fitting.
Atlanta's defense looked better than the score suggests today--one of the touchdowns was a defensive touchdown, and the offense, again, struggled to sustain drives, leaving the defense to do yeoman's work for long stretches, and often with a short field. Both rookie cornerbacks had interceptions, which was fun. It was encouraging to see the Falcons get some decent gains on the ground. Overall, though, this was an unmitigated disaster. The team looked undisciplined with dumb, costly penalties, and Matt Ryan made some uncharacteristically poor decisions.
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