We knew this one would be ugly. We knew it would be sloppy. We just hoped it wouldn’t be as bad as the rainy weather and matchup suggested it could be. Instead, it was worse.
The Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers were at 7-6 Atlanta early in the fourth quarter, the product of fumbles (only Bijan Robinson’s was recovered, but both teams put the ball on the ground), excellent defense, and a lot of shaky play from both offenses. The weather was a factor, unsurprisingly, but so was the generally lackluster nature of both offenses. By the time Desmond Ridder threw a horrendous interception in the red zone in the fourth quarter, the sinking feeling that the Falcons were going to blow it had congealed into near-certainty, and the long drive that the Panthers put together against a tired defense after that all but confirmed it. Sure enough, the Panthers marched down, ran the clock, and hit the chip shot field goal as time expired.
The Falcons look like an abysmal team right now, having turned two wins into two pitiful efforts against NFC South rivals, including a Panthers team that came into the week with a single win. Mathematically they are not out of the playoff hunt just yet, but practically speaking the kind of effort it would took to win the final three games and rally for the postseason seems entirely out of this team’s reach, given how inconsistent and sloppy the Falcons have been all year long. If this does not endanger Arthur Smith and company, nothing will, and it’s more than fair to argue that a loss of this magnitude after a season that had turned sour is a strong case for moving on at season’s end. The Falcons are now in a deep hole in the NFC South, and we’ll see if they have anything left after this.
On to the full drive-by-drive recap of the game you just watched.
Tyler Allgeier ran for a couple of yards, and then Tucker Fisk made his first career catch for a first down. The Falcons went to Allgeier again for six yards on first down, and then Cordarrelle Patterson was eaten up by Brian Burns immediately for a small loss. Bijan Robinson then went for nine yards. Kyle Pitts then caught from a rolling Desmond Ridder for a first down. Allgeier picked up five yards, following that up with a three yard carry. Another toss to Robinson was blown up without a gain. On fourth down and 3, the Falcons went back to Robinson again and the blocking was not there, as the play fell short. Turnover on downs.
On first down, Chuba Hubbard got around the edge and picked up 22 yards. Hubbard was tripped up on first down for a minimal gain, and then Bryce Young hit Adam Thielen for close to eight yards. Hubbard came up just short of a first down thanks to Ta’Quon Graham’s stop. Nate Landman made the fourth down stop to force the turnover on downs.
Robinson was stopped again for a loss running left. Ridder then saw pressure in his face and was able to scramble for a couple of yards. Burns got between Ridder’s errant pass and tipped it. Punt, and thanks to a false start and less-than-stellar punt, the Panthers started on about their own 40.
Jonathan Mingo caught it for six yards from Young, who got it out under pressure. Young then launched one to the sideline with pressure once again coming in. Young then missed badly on third down. Punt, and the Falcons were pinned deep.
Allgeier got out of the danger zone for seven yards, and then powered through contact and almost got a first down. He got four yards and a first down on the next carry. The next carry for Patterson was identified and blown up for a big loss. A screen to Allgeier got six yards, and then Ridder threw it in the dirt with pressure coming in. Punt.
Kaden Elliss blew up the first play, driving the running back backwards for a four yard loss. On second down, excellent coverage and pressure forced Young to throw it away. The third down screen was blown up immediately by Richie Grant. Punt.
The snap was fumbled and bounced into Keith Smith’s hands, and he picked up a yard. Allgeier then picked up five yards. The Falcons were stuffed on third down and went to punt, but Micah Abernathy was called for another false start. The punt went to about Carolina’s 30.
The first down run lost a yard. On second down, Young got it out and the short pass went for about seven yards, with DeMarcco Hellams getting the tackle. A false start made it 3rd and 10. Calais Campbell finished off a sack after Arnold Ebiketie got pressure. Punt.
Ridder hit Robinson for about three yards on first down, and then he hit KhaDarel Hodge for a first down. Robinson dropped the first down target to the sideline. Patterson then took it a couple of yards on second down. Ridder took a shot to Van Jefferson on third down and missed, and a penalty for illegal motion on Jefferson before the play would’ve wiped out any gain the Falcons did manage. Punt, and the Panthers were lucky to recover a muffed punt.
Travis Bell came up with the run stop on first down after a couple of yards. Carolina got another couple of yards on second down. Hellams then got the stop just shy of the first down on a Young throw, and that forced a punt.
Ridder found a wide open Jonnu Smith over the middle and Smith nearly took it to the house, picking up close to 60 yards on a long scamper following the catch. Bijan Robinson got a yard, and then Ridder hit Patterson with the world’s shortest pass and he scored the touchdown. 7-0 Falcons.
The Panthers picked up 11 yards on first down. Then they got maybe three to kick off the next series, and then Kaden Elliss stopped Miles Sanders after about a yard. Young was able to hang in under pressure and got a first down. A false start on Carolina, and then Lorenzo Carter stopped Hubbard for a loss. Thielen then got the grab and was able to turn it into a few yards, but then Young escaped pressure long enough to hit Hubbard for a first down. Then Young hit Thielen for a big gain to bring Carolina to 1st and goal, and then Young missed low against Thielen on first down. A quick run stop gave way to an Atlanta timeout with 28 seconds left. Zach Harrison then came up with the third down sack with Young trying to make something happen with his legs. 7-3 Falcons.
Chuba Hubbard went 21 yards from the 35, where the Panthers were set up after Bradley Pinion kicked it out of bounds. On the next play, Hubbard was quickly taken down by LaCale London for a loss of three. A quick pass in the backfield was blown up by Calais Campbell for a loss of six. The Panthers went for it on fourth down and it was awfully close, but it was short.
Tyler Allgeier got a yard before Kyle Pitts caught it for a first down and more, but then the Falcons saw another fumbled snap they were lucky to fall on to lose three yards. Jonnu Smith then took it about seven yards, but on third down the carry went nowhere and Pinion punted again. The Panthers started from their own 13.
Chuba Hubbard picked up 11 yards and a first down. Hubbard then got 17 on the next carry. Nate Landman then stopped Hubbard after a yard. Young was then able to escape pressure and pick up 12 yards before Elliss caught him. A yard on the next carry gave way to a fumble by Young caused by Ta’Quon Graham, but Young got it back. On third down, A.J. Terrell was called for a questionable pass interference to give Carolina a first down. Sanders picked up about five yards, and then Mike Hughes drilled him in the backfield for a loss. A holding call erased a big pass for Carolina. On third down, Young got away from pressure and threw it away. Touchback on the punt.
Patterson lost a yard on first down. Ridder had to throw under pressure and it fell incomplete, but it would’ve been a loss if Patterson had caught it. Bijan then got the third down carry and fumbled it away, with the Panthers picking it up.
Carolina didn’t get much on their initial touch, maybe three yards, but of course they were deep in Falcons territory. Ihmir Smith-Marsette then got it for a first down.
Smith-Marsette took it nine yards on first down as the Panthers apparently suddenly figured out he was their most dangerous weapon. Hubbard was then taken down by Harrison for a loss. On third down, Young was looking for Thielen, but he just missed it. Field goal try and it was good. 7-6 Falcons.
Ridder threw it out of bounds on first down, but a roughing the passer call on Brian Burns gave the Falcons 15 yards. Allgeier picked up three yards, and then Ridder threw it too low to Pitts on second down. On third down, though, he finally hit Drake London for a first down and 12 yards. A designed Ridder run lost a couple of yards, and then he hit London on the sideline for about nine yards. Allgeier got the first down on the next play, and then picked up eight yards before getting stymied on second down for a loss of about a yard. A heroic effort by Pitts on his third down catch got a first down. Patterson got nowhere on first down, and then Ridder somehow got away from a sack and threw one of the worst interceptions I’ve seen this season, right to a defender when he had room to run and Drake London open to throw to. Turnover.
Hubbard picked up a yard on first down, and then Young hit Tommy Tremble for a first down. On first down, Young went down for a loss, but a defensive holding call on Clark Phillips gave the Falcons a first down. Smith-Marsette got it for three yards, and then Hubbard took it out of bounds for another four yards. Young then was able to hit Mingo for a long first down. Hubbard maybe got a yard on the next play, D.J. Chark then made a terrific sideline grab to get the Panthers closer. Then a seven yard pass, and then a handful of yards for Hubbard, and on third down he picked up the first down. Sanders then caught it for about five yards from Young with Ebiketie in his face. Hubbard then picked up a couple of yards. The Panthers picked up the first down to effectively end the game, kneeling twice and then calling a timeout to set up a short field goal try. They hit it to win. 9-7 Panthers.