Falcons vs. Panthers score, takeaways: Carolina swallows up Marcus Mariota, Atlanta in ugly NFC South contest
Could a QB change be on the way in Atlanta?
The Falcons came into Charlotte on Thursday night looking to retake the NFC South lead. Instead, they left dampened and defeated, not only by the rainy remnants of Hurricane Nicole, but their rival Panthers. Neither side was particularly inspiring in such sloppy conditions, but whereas Arthur Smith's offense failed until the waning minutes, with Marcus Mariota practically begging Desmond Ridder to replace him on every other downfield heave, Carolina actually showed spurts of life under interim coach Steve Wilks, riding a 100-yard night from D'Onta Foreman, plus a ferocious performance from their defensive line, to seal a 25-15 victory.
The Panthers improve to 3-7 with the win, and 2-3 since Wilks replaced Matt Rhule on the sidelines. P.J. Walker reprised his starting role under center for the victory, though he stayed in the background as Carolina leaned on the run. Mariota, meanwhile, inexplicably aired it out more than usual for Atlanta, taking a number of ill-advised deep shots as the Falcons fell to 4-6, behind the Buccaneers in the South.
Here are some additional takeaways from Thursday night's divisional contest:
Why the Panthers won
They played exactly the type of football you're supposed to play when hurricane rains invade the action. D'Onta Foreman was the definition of a workhorse despite Chuba Hubbard's return from injury, and he handled 31 carries like a pro, always moving forward and finishing with 130 yards and a hard-earned score. His clock-churning efforts took the burden off P.J. Walker, who was spotty early but settled in as a background shepherd of the offense. Steve Wilks' defense was the real winner, though, getting after Marcus Mariota all night. On a relatively quiet evening for Brian Burns, everyone else feasted, with Shaq Thompson, Derrick Brown, Frankie Luv and Marquis Haynes combining for four sacks and nine tackles for loss. That entire unit played with confidence, using the weather to its advantage, and headlined the close win on a short week.
Why the Falcons lost
Younghoe Koo missed two extra points in the rain -- a first for him in his prestigious young career -- but Atlanta's issues went way beyond special teams. The chief issue: Arthur Smith's offense, which refused to utilize Cordarrelle Patterson early, inexplicably went heavier on the pass in the rain, and got one of Mariota's worst performances in a season full of iffy outings. The QB showed fight late, pulling the game within a score, but only after throwing a bad interception (and at least three other would-be picks) while forcing off-mark throws to the perpetually underused Kyle Pitts. Atlanta's "D" eventually wore down against the run, also permitting a big Laviska Shenault TD on a swing pass, but this was mostly a case of Smith's group failing when it mattered most, finishing just 3 of 13 on third- or fourth-down plays.
Up 13-9 in the third quarter, the Panthers had just allowed the Falcons to pull close with a Mariota TD pass to Drake London. But then, two plays into the subsequent series, Carolina gained 43 yards on a short pass to Terrace Marshall Jr., who shed several tackles to push the Panthers all the way inside Atlanta's 40. From there, Wilks' squad pounded it forward, sealing the drive with a 13-yard scoring run from Foreman to confirm their lead for good.
Play of the game
The Panthers showed early they could make Mariota uncomfortable, and that was never more clear than when pressure forced the Falcons QB to roll left, out of the pocket, and then hurl it deep -- into the waiting arms of Jaycee Horn:
The Panthers (3-7) will hit the road in Week 11 to face the Ravens (6-3), who are on their bye after routing the Saints in prime time. The Falcons (4-6), meanwhile, will return home to host the Bears (3-6), who play the Lions this weekend.
The Panthers ran for 232 yards tonight. By far a season high. Averaging 159.5 yards per game in the four games without Christian McCaffrey.
This is why ATL runs the ball as much as they do. The offensive line just can't protect Mariota enough for him to be effective. Great run blocking line, but the passing game is so limited with the quarterback and the protection up front.
Marcus Mariota sacked. Of course. The offensive line gave him ZERO chance to even get the ball off.
Here we go. fourth and 18 1:54 left. Game on the line. Falcons need this.
This game is getting very interesting. Falcons have the ball with 2:33 left. 13 second possession by the Panthers.
Koo came into tonight 109 of 113 on XPs. Missed just four in his career. He has missed two tonight. Just wild.
Koo has NEVER missed two extra points in a single game. NEVER.
Falcons aren't out of this yet. 97 yards in just 2:22. Where was this all night? Amazing what happens when you throw the football downfield.
Of course they miss the kick. Younghoe Koo missed two in a row after making 71 in a row.
The usage of Kyle Pitts in this offense is so bizarre. 6 targets but one catch for 10 yards tonight.
Marcus Mariota probably should have 4 INTs tonight.
Falcons get the defensive stop they were looking for, but Panthers were already in field goal territory. The 40-yarder from Pineiro is good. He has 3 FGs on the night.
Falcons now down 22-9. This drive feels like the game to me. Arthur Smith has to dial something up to get points.
The Falcons offense has not been good tonight -- and some of that has been self-inflicted -- but the Panthers defense has been impressive as well. The front seven has been so aggressive. Secondary has had some miscues.
Oh baby. Looked like things were getting sticky in Carolina, but the Panthers offense responds to the Falcons' first touchdown of the game with a TD of their own! Seven plays, 84 yards -- zero problem for PJ Walker and Co. D'Onta Foreman runs it in from 12 yards out and jumps all the way into the stands. I'm sure many had money on him scoring a TD tonight. 20 carries for 83 yards and the TD for him on the night.
Pineiro misses the XP, however, just like Koo did for ATL. 19-9.
I know the Falcons defense hasn't been good, but how easily Carolina has been moving down the field is astonishing. So many players in Atlanta out of position.
Points! Marcus Mariota hits rookie wideout Drake London for a 7-yard score. Caps a 6-play, 42-yard drive. Atlanta's first touchdown of the game -- but Koo missed the XP! Pretty significant. Now a four-point deficit.
Not sure any amount of targets is going to help Marcus Mariota get on the same page with Kyle Pitts. Two straight baffling incompletions, one to a wide-open Pitts, and then another behind the tight end running a slant, although Atlanta gets a break on a defensive coverage penalty.
Can we get Cordarrelle Patterson going here? Five carries through two and a half quarters, when D'Onta Foreman is approaching 20 on the other side. Arthur Smith needs to do something before it gets too late, because this Falcons team is not necessarily presently built to come from behind, let alone on a rainy night. Mariota's been far too scattershot pushing it downfield to trust that.
Marcus Mariota runs out of bounds for a loss of five yards on third and 9. That ruined what was statistically the Falcons' second-best drive of the entire game. 30 yards gained on five plays.
Not a great start for the Panthers in this second half. Three and out, and then a defensive holding penalty gave Atlanta another five yards. Falcons are responding with penalties of their own, however.
It looked like Terrace Marshall fumbled possession away on the first play of the second half. But he never had possession of the catch.
More points for Carolina right before the halftime break. This time a 49-yard field goal from Pineiro. 13-0. Falcons have 1 minute to try to do something before the halftime break.
It's ridiculous, Cody. Arthur Smith doesn't even trust Mariota to throw the ball in a dome. Ridder needs to take over. Maybe that's next week.
How soon until the few Falcons fans in the audience begin Desmond Ridder chants? Marcus Mariota has been begging the Panthers to pick one off tonight, and they finally do after he lofts one deep in the direction of both Drake London and Kyle Pitts. Yucky.
The Falcons look terrible. Running into each other, tackling each other. Arthur Smith is not happy.
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