The Atlanta Falcons (4-0) defeated the Carolina Panthers (1-3) by a score of 30-28 in an absolute thriller of a game.
Matt Bryant kicked the game winning field goal (40 yards) with just 10 seconds left in the game. The Panthers had one last prayer, but John Abraham sacked Cam Newton to end the game.
The Falcons started the game-winning drive on their own one yard line with 59 seconds left on the clock. Matt Ryan threw a deep bomb to Roddy White on the first play, who made the catch for 59 yards. A defensive pass interference call on Captain Munnerlyn, a seven-yard reception by Tony Gonzalez, and a six-yard reception by Harry Douglas set up the 40-yard field goal for Bryant.
Newton could have sealed the game for the Panthers, but fumbled before picking up the first down with 1:51 remaining in the quarter. The Falcons were out of timeouts and would not have been able to stop the clock.
The Falcons struggled to protect Ryan. He was sacked an absurd seven times after being sacked only four times in the previous three games combined. Ryan was also constantly other duress and hit plenty of times.
Charles Johnson was a terror for the Falcons offensive line: he racked up 3.5 sacks (after having zero in the first three games) and was continually in Ryan’s face.
Despite the inepitude of the offensive line, Ryan was still impressive: he went 25/40 for 369 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. White was the primary beneficiary of Ryan: he caught eight balls for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
Julio Jones was quiet, reeling in just one catch for 30 yards. He had a big gainer called back because his toe stepped on the white line.
Michael Turner returned to form. He rushed 13 times for 103 yards and also had three receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown.
Newton went 15/24 for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He also had nine rushes for 86 yards and a touchdown. Prior to today, Newton was undefeated in games in which he did not have a turnover.
Going in to the game, the Falcons had scored a touchdown on the opening drive in each of their three games. On the other hand, the Panthers had given up a touchdown on the opening drive in each of their three games.
It would be safe to assume, then, that the Falcons would go right down the field for a score on their opening drive.
The Falcons went three-and-out and gave the Panthers a short field. Newton ended the 53-yard drive in five plays, capping it off with a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen. Carolina took a 7-0 lead – the first time Atlanta has trailed all season.
Atlanta marched down the field on the next drive. However, after a few penalties on both teams in the red zone kept the drive alive, Ryan threw a bad pass that was easily intercepted by Panthers safety Haruki Nakamura.
The Falcons were able to add to their turnover total after Dunta Robinson stripped Steve Smith of the football. Ray Edwards recovered, and on the third play of the drive, Ryan then threw a touchdown – 49-yard bomb – to White, victimizing the aforementioned Nakamura.
The two teams traded a couple of touchdowns (DeAngelo Williams scored on an 11-yard scamper; White grabbed his second touchdown from 14 yards out), Bryant converted on a 41-yard field goal, and the Falcons went into halftime with a 17-14 lead.
Carolina could do nothing to open the second half, but Atlanta took just a minute and a half to score: Turner took a screen pass for 60 yards – his first touchdown reception of his career.
The Panthers would go on to rattle off two consecutive scores – a four-yard run by Newton and a 36-yard touchdown reception by Kealoha Pilares – to take a 28-24 lead with 8:03 left in the fourth quarter.
Bryant chipped in with another field goal (33 yards) to make the score 28-27 with five minutes left in the game.
It was a resilient win for the Falcons. It was their first time dealing with adversity, and they responded well.
However, the Falcons absolutely need to return to how well they protected Ryan in the first three weeks. They also need to work on their run defense: they gave up 199 rushing yards to the Panthers.
Atlanta goes back on the road to face the Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins next Sunday.