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What We Learned: Falcons vs. Panthers

Fact: Matt Ryan was discouraged about his speed rating on Madden 19.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

A key victory by the Falcons in a must-win situation evened the Falcons’ record at 1-1. Here is what we learned from the Falcons’ 31-24 win over division rival Carolina.

There were several chips stacked against the Atlanta Falcons entering their Week 2 showdown against NFC South foe Carolina Panthers. The starting middle linebacker was on the shelf with a foot injury, while the exceptional strong safety was done for the year with a torn ACL. In the meantime, the team’s No. 1 running back is dinged up with a knee issue and will be out for the next two to three weeks.

There was no debate that this was a must-win contest for the Falcons. After coming excruciatingly close to knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions, Atlanta falling to 0-2 with the number of injuries before them would have been mortifying.

Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was the biggest scapegoat of the Week 1 loss to Philadelphia and, well, rightfully so. However, this week Sarkisian answered the call, and what resulted was possibly his best game as a play caller for the Falcons. The zone blocking for the run game was effective. Quarterback Matt Ryan connected on 23-of-28 passes with four total touchdowns. Rookie receiver Calvin Ridley was involved, and probably most important, the unit posted four red zone touchdowns.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers have a very respectable defense thanks to a solid defensive line and the best middle linebacker in the NFL in Luke Kuechly. To see the offense roll up 442 total yards on a defense that was seventh overall in the NFL last season was a definite welcome sight. Seeing it being executed without the talents of Devonta Freeman available was equally encouraging. It opened the door for youngsters such as Ito Smith (54 total scrimmage yards on 10 touches) and Ridley (64 receiving yards, TD) to be added weapons to the Falcons arsenal.

When speaking of the Falcons defense, there was a mixture of good and bad from the shorthanded unit. For almost two quarters worth of game time, the Falcons held the Panthers scoreless, which allowed the offense to score 21 unanswered points. An interception midway through the fourth quarter by safety Ricardo Allen thwarted what appeared to be a scoring drive for the Panthers.

That was the good.

The bad, however, was a defensive line that struggled to get a push at times against an offensive line that was missing three starters. In addition, the presence of Deion Jones and Keanu Neal was sorely missed, especially in the middle of the field, where Panthers quarterback Cam Newton did most of his work in the passing game.

To be fair, the growing pains by the defense should be expected with Jones and Neal sidelined. There is still plenty of time for the unit to develop and progress.

The 31-24 win over Carolina was a complete team victory. It took plays from all three aspects to wrap this one up in a pretty bow. This was also a win that the team can pick apart and build on as they endure their early season gauntlet of a schedule. What we learned was that even on a day that was not ideal, the Falcons ARE capable of beating some of the best in the league. We all probably thought that anyway, but on this day, the team provided much-needed proof.