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Panthers vs. Falcons: Three Pivotal Plays

The Falcons took an early lead over the Carolina Panthers last Sunday, and kept the game competitive throughout. Ultimately, an inability to protect Matt Ryan, along with some stupid mistakes that have been so characteristic of this horrible season, cost the Falcons a win.

Scott Cunningham

We saw several plays from the Falcons against the Panthers last Sunday that should give us hope for the future. Matt Ryan deep over the middle to Roddy White for a touchdown, a 17-yard rushing play from Steven Jackson, a Paul Worrilow sack on Cam Newton, and a forced fumble by Robert Alford and recovery by Desmond Trufant all come to mind.

It seems, however, that there were more bad plays than good in Sunday's game. Sacks on sacks on sacks allowed by the offensive line, lapses in coverage, and dumb mistakes all contributed to the one-point loss.

Our first pivotal play came on the heels of the excellent Alford forced fumble and the subsequent recovery by Desmond Trufant, well into the second quarter. Trufant recovered on the Falcons' own four yard line, and the first down play was a Steven Jackson run for a two-yard loss.

On second down, Matt Ryan threw a pass intended for Harry Douglas, which was intercepted by Panthers cornerback Melvin White and returned for a touchdown. The Falcons have Ryan under center, they're in max-protect with six linemen, plus Steven Jackson in the backfield and Tony Gonzalez in the tight end slot. Harry Douglas and Roddy White are both spread wide.

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The right side and center of the line hold up pretty well, but Lamar Holmes falls down while blocking. Matt is under some pressure to avoid a safety. I think Ryan expects Harry to run this out route, because that's where he throws the ball.

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It's definitely a miscommunication. Ryan throws it just outside of where Douglas is hooking back in on the route. White makes a nice play on the ball, but it's not difficult, because no Falcons receiver is in position to get it. The Falcons maintain a 10-7 lead, but the Panthers have all the momentum.

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The second pivotal play came toward the very end of the first half. The Panthers had taken over on their own four-yard line, with four minutes and 17 seconds remaining in the half, and they executed a nice drive that got them to the Atlanta 20 yard line. A ridiculous 17-yard rush from Mike Tolbert put the Panthers on the Atlanta three yard line with a fresh set of downs.

Before the play, Teddy Ginn shifts from the right to the left side of the formation. Robert Alford follows. Clearly Ginn is his assignment.

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After the snap, Ginn runs a nice slant. Alford absolutely has the speed to keep up with Ginn in this situation. However, Thomas DeCoud and a ref both chip Alford as he attempts to stay with Ginn, taking him out of the play. Ginn is completely uncovered as a result.

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It's an easy completion, to give the Panthers the lead going into the half.

The Falcons still had a chance as the game was nearing an end. Down by just one point, on their own 44 yard line with 35 seconds left to play, all the Falcons had to do was get into field goal range and let Matt Bryant's leg win the game, as they have done so many times before.

Matt Ryan is in the shotgun, and Jason Snelling is in the backfield. There's some formation shifting from Carolina, and Ryan approaches the line to make adjustments.

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Joe Hawley, inexplicably, snaps the ball. It goes over Ryan's head. Even Panthers players seem to be confused because none of this makes any sense.

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Snelling recovers, and the recovery will put on the Atlanta 27 yard line.

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The Falcons have no time outs, and Ryan takes the snap on the next play quickly, but an illegal shift penalty results in a ten second runoff, taking the clock down to nine seconds. It's just not meant to be for the 2013 Falcons. Here's to a better 2014.

What were your pivotal plays of the game?