Led by Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and a defense that allowed just three points in the second half, the visiting Falcons defeated the Panthers on Thursday night, 25-17. Ryan threw for 281 yards while rushing for a touchdown. Jones caught seven passes for 137 yards for the Falcons, who have won two out of their last three games after an 0-5 start.
Atlanta scored on four of their five first-half possessions. Younghoe Koo drilled three first-half field goals, while Ryan scored his 10th career touchdown run on a 13-yard scamper. Ryan's score came shortly after the Falcons stonewalled Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's rushing attempt on a fourth and one play. Carolina received two first-half touchdowns from receiver Curtis Samuel. His 12-yard run gave the Panthers an early 7-3 lead, while his 29-yard score (off of a flea flicker) gave Carolina a 14-6 lead two minutes into the second quarter. The Falcons responded with consecutive scoring drives to take a 16-14 halftime lead.
At the start of the second half, Foyesade Oluokun and Grady Jarrett combined to stuff Panthers running back Mike Davis on fourth and a yard. The stop led to Koo's fourth field goal, a 30-yard attempt that stretched Atlanta's lead to five points. Atlanta was preparing the get the ball back again when the Panthers ran a fake punt featuring rookie Jeremy Chinn, who took the direct snap and rumbled 28 yards to the Falcons' 40-yard-line. The Panthers parlayed the gamble into a 39-yard field goal by Joey Slye.
Atlanta responded with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by Todd Gurley's eighth touchdown run of the season. Atlanta's lead stayed at eight points after Koo missed the point-after attempt. The two teams traded punts before the Panthers took over at their own five-yard-line with 2:58 left. Facing a third and 18, Bridgewater connected with D.J. Moore for a 42-yard gain, as the Panthers had the ball at the Falcons' 24-yard-line. But three plays after the big completion, Bridgewater, who missed three plays after sustaining an injury to his neck/head at the start of the fourth quarter, was intercepted by Blidi Wreh-Wilson, securing the Falcons' second win of the season.
Here's a closer look at what transpired on Thursday night.
Why the Falcons won
Atlanta received a vintage performance from Ryan and Jones. The duo was also complemented by a rushing attack that gained 131 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries. The defense, led by Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, Isaiah Oliver and Dante Fowler Jr., came up with several key stops while allowing a season-low 17 points. Atlanta managed to win despite the absence of receiver Calvin Ridley, who left the game with an ankle injury during the second quarter.
Why the Panthers lost
Carolina's inability to convert on two separate fourth and one plays hurt. And when they did manage to convert on fourth down (Chinn's big run on fourth and nine on the Panthers' fake punt), the Panthers were held to a field goal. The Panthers, despite having success on the ground, attempted just 22 running plays that included just 13 attempts from running back Mike Davis. The Panthers, who were just 2-of-10 on third down, had the ball for less than 24 minutes.
The Panthers appeared to be building momentum after cornerback Donte Jackson's interception set up Samuel's second touchdown that stretched Carolina's lead to 14-6. Ryan, however, responded with gusto, leading the Falcons on four consecutive scoring drives. Conversely, Atlanta's defense came up with two big fourth-down stops during that span.
Play of the game
There were several nominees, but Foyesade Oluokun's second-quarter stop of Bridgewater on fourth and one takes the cake. The stop helped the Falcons take a two-point lead at halftime.
"I hope it's the start of something. I really feel like, although we're 2-6, I feel like we've been in some tight ones. We've played some good football. I think we can play some really tough football during the second half of the season." — Ryan to FOX Sports when asked about what Thursday's mean can mean for Atlanta moving forward
The 2-6 Falcons will host the Broncos next Sunday. Denver is 2-4 heading into Sunday's home game against the Chargers. The 3-5 Panthers will head to Kansas City to take on the undefeated Chiefs. Kansas City is 5-1 entering Sunday's home game against the winless Jets.
Re-live tonight's action by checking out out our live blow below.