It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was jaw-dropping plays, it was cover-your-eyes plays. It was...well, a Falcons game. And then it was really, really a Falcons game.
Against a weak Carolina Panthers squad, Atlanta had a deeply frustrating first quarter in particular, but found their footing as the game went on. The team fell behind early and stayed there as Marcus Mariota and the offensive line endured a nightmare run, but Atlanta started to (but didn’t always) put the offense in a better position to succeed and Mariota got hot, completing an endless procession of passes as the Falcons carved out an eight point lead with the fourth quarter on the way. That plus a hot ground game allowed the Falcons to keep pace with Carolina, which repeatedly victimized the Atlanta defense after a good start for the Falcons. It made for a thrilling, exhausting afternoon, and the Falcons had the lead with just 36 seconds left on the clock and no Carolina timeouts.
The Falcons are still the Falcons, however, and they somehow allowed a 62 yard touchdown pass from P.J. Walker. A penalty on D.J. Moore, who took off his helmet after catching the score, meant a missed extra point and overtime, but Atlanta’s opening drive of extra time ended in a Marcus Mariota interception after the quarterback was hit trying to throw it deep to Damiere Byrd. The long return and a couple of solid runs set up Carolina for a game-winning field goal try, which somehow they missed. That gave Atlanta another bite at the apple of victory, and this time Younghoe Koo converted the field goal to give them a 37-34 win.
Atlanta will justly get kudos for their heart in this one, as they once again never gave up and battled their way to a victory, and they’ll also get a ton of heat for the number of huge mistakes and missed opportunities in this game. It was that kind of uneven effort, but all that really matters right now is that Atlanta wins, moves to 4-4, and is currently running the NFC South. They’ll have a week to improve and sift through the errors, and that onerous task will be a lot easier with the sweet taste of victory.
Here’s the drive-by-drive breakdown of the game you just watched, if you’re somehow still alive to read it.
The Falcons started with the ball, and it was an inauspicious start for this offense. Marcus Mariota threw two passes, missing Kyle Pitts on the first and throwing a deep ball that was picked off on the second play. Turnover and we were off to a rough start.
Carolina’s ball to start things off. Their drive might have fizzled out early if not for a Dean Marlowe facemask, which turned a 3rd and 4 into a first down. P.J. Walker could not connect on shots to the sideline and over the middle and Carolina had to punt after a series of unproductive plays.
The next drive started off with a 13 year Tyler Allgeier run, but things went south quickly again. Allgeier was stuffed in the middle for no gain on the next play, Mariota looked around for an open man and couldn’t find one before scrambling for no gain, and then took a horrendous sack on third down where he scrambled backwards at least ten yards before being taken down. Punt, and an 18 yard return by the Panthers.
With excellent field position, the Panthers got a first down on a couple of carries on the ground before stalling out again, in part thanks to an excellent second down run stop by Grady Jarrett. The Panthers surprisingly ran it on third down to set up a field goal attempt, which was good. 3-0 Panthers.
A short Avery Williams return and an illegal block in the back penalty had the Falcons deep in their own territory. On first down, Caleb Huntley picked up three before Mariota rolled out to the sideline and found Damiere Byrd down the side right before being hit, his first very nice throw of the day. Huntley picked up five after that, and then Mariota faked a handoff and kept it, running for a first down. Allgeier got four, and then a short pass to Avery Williams resulted in a loss of one yard. On third down, Mariota wisely went to Pitts with pressure getting close but the throw was behind and knocked down by a Panthers defender. Punt.
The Panthers tried to take a huge deep shot immediately to a wide open D.J. Moore, but thankfully he missed. Two plays and five yards later, the Panthers were punting yet again. Punt festival!
A false start on Elijah Wilkinson backed things up, but Tyler Allgeier picked up a couple and then Kyle Pitts caught a Mariota dart to make it 3rd and 3. That ended the quarter.
Avery Williams caught a short pass and managed to get it across the line for a first, followed by a short run from Huntley. Mariota got Parker Hesse under pressure for another first down, and then evaded pressure again to find Pitts for a 27 yard gain. A good run and then a short catch by Bryan Edwards had the Falcons at 3rd and 1 close to the end zone, and Huntley powered through the line for a first down. On the next play, Pitts got open over the middle and Mariota tossed him the touchdown, and it was 7-3 Falcons.
The Panthers finally rumbled to life on the subsequent drive, keyed by P.J. Walker connecting on a 27 yard sideline shot. The Panthers started to find Moore on this drive, and as the team’s most dangerous remaining offensive weapon, Moore delivered multiple big gains. With Raheem Blackshear running well as well, the Panthers were knocking on the door and took a shot at the end zone on second and goal that Cornell Armstrong successfully defended. The next play, unfortunately, was a D’Onta Foreman touchdown run to put Carolina up again. 10-7 Panthers.
Arthur Smith was not happy about a holding call on a nice Avery Williams return, but he had to be happy with how his ground game looked. Caleb Huntley was rolling and Allgeier chipped in, but at third and 3 around the Falcons 30, Mariota tried to scramble for a first down and was caught by Derrick Brown, who got into the backfield and tripped him up. Punt.
The Panthers got moving on the next drive, but it didn’t matter. Lorenzo Carter picked off P.J. Walker and took it to the house to give Atlanta the lead back just before halftime, coming up with a big play when this team badly needed one. 14-10 Falcons.
Carolina had just one timeout left and a long way to go, and while they did pick up quite a few yards on a long Walker scramble, they couldn’t score. Halftime.
Carolina had the ball to start the second half, and their first two plays got them about four yards. Then they got rolling, gashing the Falcons defense and getting inside the Atlanta 30. Excellent coverage by Isaiah Oliver and Cornell Armstrong prevented scores on two end zone shots from Walker, and then Armstrong prevented a completion on third down to force a field goal try they converted. 14-13 Falcons.
Atlanta’s next drive was not inspiring. A short pass to Drake London lost a yard, a pitch play to Olamide Zaccheaus went nowhere, and a third down play where Mariota escaped pressure and flipped it to Tyler Allgeier in the hopes that he could pick up yards resulted in not much. Three plays, negative two yards, punt.
It was a quick first down for Carolina on a screen pass, but then they quickly bogged down. Lorenzo Carter nearly got a sack, and back-to-back flags moved Carolina back to 2nd and 25. The Panthers got 13 on a pass to Laviska Shenault, and then they got nowhere on third down. Punt.
Huntley ran effectively and Kyle Pitts managed a nice catch over the middle despite a huge hit from safety Juston Burris, who hurt himself on the tackle attempt. Huntley did fumble, but scooped it back up, and Allgeier got a first down shortly thereafter. An Allgeier carry and Mariota run gave the Falcons a 3rd and 4, and then Mariota found London for a first down. Then Mariota hit Allgeier on a short pass, and the blocking and Allgeier did the rest of the work, cashing in a 25 yard touchdown. 21-13 Falcons.
The next drive was all about D.J. Moore, who Walker looked for repeatedly with great reward.
Foreman and Spencer Brown got the Falcons inside the 10, and then Foreman on third down got Carolina to the cusp of scoring. It took until fourth down, but Foreman was able to plunge in to score the touchdown. Carolina needed a two point conversion to tie it and got it, with Foreman fumbling but Panthers tight end Tommy Tremble scooping it up. 21-21 game.
Huntley got rolling on first down, getting a couple of blocks and rumbling for 31 yards, and a pair of carries gave the Falcons a manageable third down. Mariota found Pitts for a short pass, but Pitts was wide open and was able to put some moves on defenders and pick up 33 yards. That gave the Falcons a chance to score, and while they couldn’t get it into the end zone, Younghoe Koo did punch in a short field goal attempt to get the lead back. 24-21 Falcons.
On the return, Feleipe Franks got called for unnecessary roughness, tacking 15 yards on to the end of the return. Carolina should’ve been dead in the water thanks to mistakes and penalties, but Atlanta’s third down woes continued and they allowed the Panthers to move downfield, with D.J. Moore once again the primary beneficiary for P.J. Walker. Penalties continued to haunt Carolina, however, as they were backed up past midfield and had a 2nd and 18 to deal with. Walker found Terrace Marshall for 40 yards, however, and Carolina was inside the 20. After another penalty, Foreman rumbled through a few Falcons defenders and scored his third touchdown of the game, giving Carolina the lead again. Panthers 28-24.
Mariota tried London deep but the pass was broken up, but he found Allgeier on a short pass that the back turned into a big gain on second down. On the next play, Mariota made the most of his time in the pocket, finding London for a first down. Then Mariota saw Byrd wide open and connected on a nice pass, giving Byrd a chance to make a play with his speed. He certainly did, turning on the burners and getting into the end zone to give the Falcons the lead back. 31-28 Falcons.
The Panthers ran it for a yard to get us to the two minute warning, and then Spencer Brown dropped the second down pass attempt. On third down, Rashaan Evans sacked Walker, and on 4th and very long Walker somehow found D.J. Moore across the middle...but Dee Alford appeared to get his hands up and make life difficult for Moore, who bobbled it and ended the drive.
The Falcons forced Carolina to use two timeouts on a pair of runs, and then Allgeier made a game effort on third down but fell short of a first down. With 39 seconds left, Younghoe Koo came on to kick a field goal, and a false start backed up the attempt five yards. It was still just a 34 yard try, though, and predictably Koo hit it. 34-28 Falcons.
The Panthers had no timeouts but it didn’t matter. P.J. Walker somehow found his way to a 62 yard touchdown pass to D.J. Moore, with a Moore unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for removing his helmet forcing a long extra point attempt that the Panthers missed. 34-34 tie game.
The Falcons wisely took a deep shot to Damiere Byrd and looked for a flag they didn’t get. Overtime.
The Falcons started with the ball, and despite a poor return by Avery Williams, they were able to get moving. Caleb Huntley picked up several, Mariota got rid of the ball with pressure in his face, and then he found Drake London for a first down. Tyler Allgeier carried a couple defenders for a couple of yards, and then Mariota took a deep shot. Unfortunately, he was hit as he threw, and it ended up being a duck because of that that C.J. Henderson picked off and returned deep into Atlanta territory.
The Panthers ran three times for six yards to set up a field goal attempt that would win the game. Somehow, they missed it. Turnover on downs.
The Falcons ran it and then Mariota found Olamide Zaccheaus for a first down, and then the Falcons got to a manageable fourth down. Mariota kept it and took off on a blistering run to pick up 29 and get the Falcons within field goal range. The team then ran it twice, picking up just one yard, and then Younghoe Koo came on and sealed the victory with a 40 yard field goal. 37-34 final.