Dan Quinn, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones all spoke after the Falcons’ 20-13 victory over the previously undefeated Carolina Panthers. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter reports from the Georgia Dome.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton summed up the game rather succinctly.
“We got our ass kicked today,” Newton said.
The Panthers got off to a good start and appeared headed for another rout of the Falcons until cornerback Charles Tillman’s key unnecessary roughness call after tussling with Roddy White.
It was an Old man on Old man crime.
Instead of punting, the Falcons had a first down and they went on to cobble together a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that seemed to shoot confidence through the entire team. The same team that had been steamrolled 72-3 in the past two meetings, suddenly had confidence.
While we could quibble about that disgraceful late offensive display of three penalties in a row while trying to run out the clock, rookie defensive end Vic Beasley covered up those miscues with key late sack-strip of Newton.
Game ball: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who tossed his 200th career touchdown pass, took a licking and kept on ticking. Ryan was under relentless pressure from the Panthers. He took hits, but kept coming back for more.
Quarterbacks, A. After taking a shot from Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, three plays later Ryan escaped the pocket and threw the ball up for Julio Jones, who caught it and scored on a 70-yard play. Despite taking a pounding, Ryan never left the game as he completed 23 of 30 passes for 306 yards and no interceptions. He finished with a passer rating 119.6, his highest of the season. “I feel great,” Ryan said. “I thought that was a really good team win. My body feels good. Just a gutty performance across the board.” Ryan’s throw traveled 53 yards in the air of for the arm strength watchers. It was Ryan’s 34th career game with at least 300 yards passing. Ryan has also now thrown for at least 4,000 yards in each of the last five seasons (4,257).
Running backs, A. The Falcons stayed with the run game even though it wasn’t very productive. Devonta Freeman rushed 22 times for 73 yards and a touchdown. Terron Ward had two carries for three yards. Overall, the Falcons rushed for 77 yards on 30 carries. Sticking to the run, made the Panthers honor the play-action fakes.
Wide receivers/tight ends, A. Julio Jones turned in a spectacular game with nine catches for 178 yards and a touchdown. His acrobatic grab over Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was dazzling and just what the Falcons needed to propel them to victory. In the third quarter, Jones broke his own franchise record for receiving yards in a season (1,593) and has now run his total to 1,722 yards this season. Jones’ nine receptions also helped move him to third on the all-time single season reception list (127). But let’s not make the 70-yard play a reason to throw deep more. It was a heave that worked out, kind of like a late-game Hail Mary. Roddy White said he’d be in Gladiator Mode and he came through with a strong game. He had five catches for 67 yards. Four of White’s five receptions went for first downs. With over four minutes remaining in the game, White caught a 17-yard pass pushing the Falcons’ offense to the Panthers’ 22-yard line. White said he wasn’t motivated by Panthers cornerback Josh Norman calling him the Falcons “fifth” receiver. “I wanted to beat them because we got skunked two weeks ago,” White said. “That was the reason I wanted to win the game more than anything.” Tight end Jacob Tamme had four catches for 29 yards. Tight end Levin Toilolo had a tough day blocking, but he kept battling.
Offensive line, A. The unit was over-matched but battled. They stood up to Panthers very fine defensive line rotation. Ryan noted that the getting 77 yards against the Panthers was quite an accomplishment. Ryan was sacked two times and hit six times. That was a marked improvement from the five sacks and 11 hits in
the previous game on Dec. 13. Left tackle Jake Matthews escorted Freeman into the end zone on his 4-yard touchdown run. We could quibble about the botched shot gun snap, but when there’s a victory that’s just something to work on in practice.
Defensive line, A. Defensive end Vic Beasley closed out the game with a big sack-strip. Adrian Clayborn pounced on the ball to end the game. Paul Soliai tried to play through his calf injury, but eventually had to tap out. Jonathan Babineaux and Kroy Biermann combined for a big sack to the knock the Panthers out of field goal range. Ra’Shede Hageman had a big tackle for a loss after the botched shot gun snap. On second-and-1 from the Falcons’ 27, Hageman stormed into the backfield and dropped Fozzy Whittaker for a 2-yard loss. Newton’s third down pass was incomplete and the Panthers had to settle for a field goal. Malliciah Goodman saw his most extensive action (36 snaps) in many weeks.
Linebackers, A: Paul Worrilow started and turned in a solid effort while playing with a knee injury. He clearly wasn’t 100 percent as he played just 18 of 52 (35 percent) defensive snaps. Justin Durant finished with five tackles and a pass breakup. Nate Stupar had a solid game with four tackles. Brooks Reed, the team’s big free agent signee, played just four snaps (eight percent).
Defensive backs, A. The Panthers tried to attack cornerback Robert Alford again. He led the Falcons with seven tackles and had two pass break ups. He came up strong in run support and tackled with authority. Nickel back Phillips Adams had two pass breakups and showed up in the run game with four tackles. Charles Godfrey has been a steadying force at strong safety.
Special teams, A. Field goal kicker Shayne Graham atoned for his missed 47-yard field goal by making a 37-yarder and a 54-yarder. He either had a missed-hit on the ball or his plant leg slipped on the errant kick. Matt Bosher had one punt, a 25-yarder, he placed inside the 20. Returner Devin Hester had a fair-catch on a punt and one kickoff return for 29 yards.
Coaching, A. The Falcons stuck with their plan on offense to stay balanced. They had 30 runs and 30 passes. The defense came to life after that first drive and bailed the team out with two late stops. It was the biggest win of Coach Dan Quinn’s first season and put the team in position to finish with a winning season.
NEXT UP: The Falcons (8-7) host the New Orleans Saints (6-9) on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Georgia Dome. The Saints ended the Falcons five-game winning streak with a 31-21 victory on Oct. 15.