Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 12/11/11

             Today the Atlanta Falcons traveled to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina to take on the Carolina Panthers. The first quarter of play was full of promise for the Falcons, as the team’s second drive of the game went 63 yards and ended on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White, which gave the Falcons a 7-0 lead with 5:29 left in the first quarter. Carolina answered with a scoring drive of its own, marching 74 yards down the field on nine plays and tying the game at 7 thanks to a 6-yard touchdown pass from rookie Cam Newton to veteran Jeremy Shockey.

           The second half of play went about as bad as you can get for the Falcons, and it all started when Matt Ryan took a sack in the end zone for a safety, giving the Panthers a narrow 9-7 lead with 8:46 left before halftime. Carolina made the most out of getting the ball back after the two points, scoring on its second play of the drive with a 74-yard run by DeAngelo Williams to make it 16-7. A quick three-and-out by Atlanta gave the Panthers the ball back on its own 40 with plenty of time left to increase the lead. They did just that on 3rd and 14, as Cam Newton hit tight end Greg Olsen for a 44-yard touchdown to make it 23-7 with just 3:03 left in the first half. The Falcons tried to put together a scoring drive before the half ended but where unable to do so, resulting in Atlanta going into the locker room down by sixteen to a confident Carolina squad.

           With playoff hopes on the line and plenty of time left to make some big plays, the Falcons came out in the second half ready to make up for its first half miscues. A stop by the Falcons defense on Carolina’s opening drive of the second half gave Atlanta the ball on its own 43 yard line with a chance to make a significant cut in the deficit. Matt Ryan and Company then put together a nice 10-play, 45 yard drive that looked destined to end with a touchdown, but two dropped passes by Julio Jones forced the Falcons to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Matt Bryant. The Falcons’ defense stood tall on Carolina’s next drive just as they did on the previous one, as Mike Peterson intercepted Newton’s would-be shovel pass to Jonathan Stewart and returned it to the Carolina 39. The Falcons made Newton pay for his indiscretion just two plays later, as Ryan hit rookie Jacquizz Rodgers in the end zone for an impressive 31-yard touchdown, cutting Carolina’s lead to 23-17.

               Atlanta had another chance to make Carolina pay for an ill-advised pass by Cam Newton (intercepted by William Moore) on the next drive, but Matt Bryant’s 46-yard field goal was no good, leaving the score at 23-17. The score remained the same until 12:42 left in the fourth quarter, when Matt Ryan hit Julio Jones, who was obviously bothered by his earlier drops, for a 17-yard touchdown to give Atlanta its first lead since the first quarter. Stops by both defenses soon followed the touchdown, leading to a Carolina drive that started from their own 19. Cam Newton seemed up to the challenge of leading his team back in this series, as his big plays led the Panthers all the way down to the Atlanta 18 before Panthers kicker O Mare came out for a 36-yard field goal to put his team back on top. However, Mare’s kick was no good, giving Atlanta a chance to make a knockout punch. They did just that on their next possession, as Julio Jones took a pass from Ryan and made it into a huge play, running down the field 75 yards to make it 31-23. The Panthers tried to get going on their next possession, but six incomplete passes from Newton doomed Carolina, leading to a turnover on downs. The Falcons ran out the clock on their next possession, insuring a 31-23 win that was highlighted by 24 unanswered points in the second half of play.

             This game featured a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” Falcons team, as the first half of play by both sides of the ball brought about memories of the Bobby Petrino/Joey Harrington era in Atlanta. However, the Falcons woke up in the second half and played near-perfect on both offense and defense, making big plays against a Panthers defense that was lockdown in the first and second quarter and thwarting any efforts Cam Newton made at making big plays and getting the fans at Bank of America Stadium back in the game. It wasn’t pretty to watch, but winning at this time of the year is all that matters, and the victory today over the Panthers puts Atlanta in prime position to take one the wild card slots this season.

               The Falcons will be playing on a short week this week, as they will take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Georgia Dome on Thursday night. Apart from Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars have been completely forgettable in 2011, as they sit at 4-9 and are coming off a 41-14 beatdown against the hapless Buccaneers. Jacksonville looks ready to just hurry up and finish the season under interim head coach Mel Tucker, so as long as the Falcons defense shuts down Jones-Drew, you can expect Atlanta’s record to improve to 9-5.

Follow me on Twitter @JDawg1447

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