This game started grimly. The Falcons were down early and saw Damontae Kazee leave the game after an ugly helmet-to-helmet hit and ejection, and it looked like another slog for Atlanta. But then the Falcons played like they’re supposed to, even down Deion Jones and Keanu Neal and Devonta Freeman and Kazee.
The Falcons were brilliant on the ground against a quality Carolina front, strong through the air, and good enough on defense against a Panthers team that bizarrely elected not to run enough. It was a performance that was nearly erased by some screwy late game defense and offense that gave the Panthers a chance to tie the game up or even win with the clock running down, but it was enough to get a win.
We don’t know where the Falcons will go from here, but they did enough against Carolina to at least set a few minds at ease. Here’s the drive-by-drive recap.
The Panthers elected to receive, and started things off by rattling off 29 yards on two run plays, which was about as un-promising a start as you could imagine. The Falcons were able to stop the bleeding by allowing the Panthers to pick up just six yards and an incomplete pass, but Graham Gano boomed the field goal attempt and Carolina was on the board.
Falcons 0 - Panthers 3
The Falcons came out looking to run, picking up three on Tevin Coleman’s first carry. Matt Ryan scrambled for a four yard pickup and then found Julio Jones for a first down, keeping the drive alive. After Calvin Ridley’s first NFL catch, Coleman popped off for a 27 yard run and Ito Smith picked up 10 more. Unfortunately, a questionable penalty wiped that out, and the Falcons tried to use the Wildcat on third down to ill effect. Matt Bryant nailed his field goal attempt.
Falcons 3 - Panthers 3
The Panthers fizzled out fast. Cam Newton found Christian McCaffrey for seven yards on two receptions, but then Brian Poole got a third down sack to get them off the field.
The Falcons moved a bit before Ryan’s knee brace busted for the second straight week, forcing Matt Schaub into the game. He fumbled and lost yardage, and the Falcons ultimately had to punt. I don’t know what’s going on with that brace. End first quarter after the punt.
Cam Newton threw an 18 yarder to Christian McCaffrey.
This quarter started off with more of the same, and even when the Falcons got the Panthers to third down, Carolina went for it on fourth and 4 and converted. Worse, the Falcons lost Damontae Kazee for the game after he was ejected for a late helmet-to-helmet hit on Cam Newton, leaving Jordan Richards and Keith Tandy to pick up the slack. It was not great surprise when Newton led the Panthers to a touchdown several plays later, and the Falcons were reeling.
Falcons 3 - Panthers 10
The Falcons were bailed out on the next drive by a pass interference call on Donte Jackson, one that picked them up a first down. But Matt Ryan followed that up with a terrible first down pass, one that was deeply concerning for all those of us who saw him play last week. Thankfully, Tevin Coleman bailed him out with an absolute gem of a 36 yard run that put the Falcons deep in Carolina territory. A six yard pass from Ryan to Julio and a five yard Ito Smith run then gave Atlanta another first down. The Falcons found the end zone when Matt Ryan hit Calvin Ridley on an 11 yarder, putting them in a tie with Carolina.
Falcons 10 - Panthers 10
The Panthers saw a penalty from a dude named Manhertz and a Takk sack of Cam Newton, which put Carolina in a third and long situation. They did not even come close to converting, forcing a punt. The Falcons started off deep in their own territory.
Tevin Coleman got a four yard pickup to begin the drive, followed by a nice Ryan-to-Ridley hookup that resulted in a 22 yard gain. A Tevin Coleman run and Austin Hooper first down later, Ryan found Marvin Hall for a 30 yard pickup to put the Falcons close to the end zone, followed by an eight yard Ito Smith reception. An eight yard touchdown grab by Austin Hooper capped things off and gave the Falcons their first lead of the game.
Falcons 17 - Panthers 10
The Panthers couldn’t answer. Halftime.
The Falcons got a 30-plus yard return from Calvin Ridley, a 30 yard reception for Julio Jones, and then a deep Matt Ryan interception where he was hit as he threw and #11 couldn’t make a play on the ball.
Quick three and out for Carolina, thanks defense.
The offense looked putrid to start—Ryan almost threw another pick and Wes Schweitzer held—but they got moving thanks to a huge third down grab by Calvin Ridley and back-to-back nice Ito Smith runs that picked up over 30 yards. When the Falcons got down close to the goal line, they called a Matt Ryan keeper that resulted in a one-yard score. The Falcons were suddenly up two touchdowns.
Falcons 24 - Panthers 10
Carolina got moving, but they were undone by a dumb holding penalty forced by Vic Beasley. Punt.
Tevin Coleman started things off with a 19 yard run, went over 100 yards on the next play, and the Falcons got a first down from Calvin Ridley. Despite the promising start, Atlanta did wind up having to punt.
The Panthers nearly saw a Cam Newton interception to Desmond Trufant, but Tru dropped it. With Cam Newton running and throwing fairly well, Carolina got to moving.
They kept moving. Ian Thomas was an increasingly popular target on this drive, and the Falcons made some weird decisions in coverage that included Terrell McClain covering a tight end at one point. The Panthers did score, putting them within a touchdown of Atlanta.
Falcons 24 - Panthers 17
This was simply a brilliant drive from the Falcons. They hit Hooper deep, hit Paulsen shallow, ran well and got a Matt Ryan scramble for a touchdown to cap things off. Steve Sarkisian’s playcalling and Ryan’s play were borderline brilliant against a Carolina defense that suddenly looked overmatched.
Falcons 31 - Panthers 17
The Panthers finally displayed some deep passing acumen, but it was for naught pretty quickly when Ricardo Allen picked off a tipped Cam Newton pass.
The pick didn’t translate into a game-sealing touchdown, unfortunately, as Atlanta punted.
The next drive was a disaster for Atlanta. The Panthers passed all over the defense, and Newton hit D.J. Moore for a tackle-busting 50-plus yard score to bring Carolina back within a touchdown. Not good.
Falcons 31 - Panthers 24
Needing to chew clock or score, the Falcons got nothing on Tevin Coleman’s first carry but did pick up nine yards on his subsequent catch. They still had to punt.
The Panthers made our nerves jangle on the next drive, highlighted by Cam Newton escaping a sack and running for 16 yards. But the Falcons managed to stiffen up enough on defense to have the Panthers with five seconds left on the Atlanta 42 yard line, and the nerves jangled anew. Fortunately, a Taylor Moton false start and a miss were enough, and the Falcons held on to win.