The game wasn’t nearly as close as a 30-20 score would indicate.
From the start, the Carolina Panthers (4-9) dominated the Atlanta Falcons (11-2). It was as if the two teams had swapped records.
After winning the coin toss for the first time this season, the Panthers elected to receive and promptly put together an 11-play, 77-yard drive that was capped off with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen.
At halftime, the Panthers had 270 total yards to the Falcons’ paltry 35 total yards.
The time of possession gap was just as big: Carolina had the ball for 23:48; Atlanta had the ball for just 6:12. In the first down department, Carolina had 15, and Atlanta had only two.
Just like that, the Falcons were in a 16-0 hole to a division opponent.
It was reminiscent of the Week 14 game last season in which Carolina dominated the first half and jumped out to a 23-7 lead. In that game, Atlanta stormed back in the second half to put up 24 unanswered points en route to a 31-23 win.
Today’s game wouldn’t have the same ending.
Atlanta’s opening drive in the second half ended with a punt. A few plays later, Cam Newton went streaking down the left sideline for a 72-yard touchdown run to put Carolina up 23-0.
The Falcons didn’t get on the board until 4:53 left in the third quarter. Matt Ryan found Roddy White in the end zone from four yards out to cap a 13-play, 84-yard drive.
After a defensive stop, the Falcons offense put up another touchdown – an 11-yard pass to Julio Jones.
The Falcons elected to go for two and seemingly converted the conversion, but referee Ed Hochuli ruled the pass to White incomplete. It looked as if White clearly had possession all the way through, but Mike Smith’s challenge attempt was unsuccessful.
Atlanta could not overcome the 10-point deficit.
Ryan threw a critical interception after the defense held again, and a 53-yard screen pass to DeAngelo Williams put the game out of reach.
Michael Turner scored a one-yard rushing touchdown in garbage time, making the final score 30-20.
It was the first time Newton defeated the Falcons in four attempts. The quarterback accounted for 403 total yards (287 passing, 116 rushing) and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing). He had zero turnovers.
On the other hand, Ryan completed 34 of 49 passes for 342 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. As was the case last week versus the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons offense looked out of sync for the majority of the game.
Atlanta’s woes running the football and defending the run continued: they gained just 35 yards on the ground and allowed 195.
Earlier in the week, Greg Hardy asserted the Panthers were a better team than the Falcons.
On this day, they certainly were.
Next up: the New York Giants in the Georgia Dome.