Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 12/9/12
For the first time this season, the Atlanta Falcons lost a game that wasnt even close. While the odds still favor the Falcons to win home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, the task looks a little more difficult after a 30-20 loss at Carolina in which they were thoroughly spanked. Next week, Atlanta (11-2) hosts the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, which began the day leading the NFC East at 7-6, and could face its first losing streak of the season. Traditionally, the Falcons have played well after a loss during head coach Mike Smiths five seasons their record is 19-3 -- and they also own a fantastic record at home under Smith. Thus far they are unbeaten at the Georgia Dome this season. So while its possible that the Falcons were caught looking past Carolina (4-9) to next week, its also doubtful. The Falcons need a 59-yard pass while backed up at their own 1-yard line in the final minute of regulation to pull off a miraculous 30-28 win over the Panthers on Sept. 30. In that game, the Falcons yielded 199 rushing yards to the Panthers, which alarmed Smith. Rushing defense has proved itself Atlantas Achilles heel this season, Smith has said, but the Falcons have managed since then to improve in that area, even if it has come in fits and starts. So when Newton told Atlanta media members on a conference call on Wednesday that I dont think it will be a problem to duplicate that feat, it seemed a boast. Instead, for all intents and purposes, he backed it up. The Panthers rushed for 195 yards with 72 of them coming on a touchdown scamper by Newton that practically put the game out of reach just 3:59 into the second half and the Panthers up 23-0. The rest was basically window dressing for the Falcons. Being the comeback specialists they are, the Falcons rallied to 23-13 on an 11-yard touchdown catch by Julio Jones 63 seconds into the fourth quarter, but a tough call went against them. Roddy White appeared to have caught a two-point conversion to pull the Falcons within one score but the officials on the field ruled the play incomplete. The Falcons challenged the play but lost. Later, they were driving but faced fourth-and-8 and, under pressure, quarterback Matt Ryan threw an interception with 6:19 left in the game. The Falcons had another poor day tackling and, as such, allowed another long touchdown, as DeAngelo Williams scored on a 53-yard screen pass with 4:11 left in regulation to put the Panthers up 30-13. The Falcons added a score during garbage time, but, again, the Panthers had very few moments in this game when they might have been worried about the outcome. Most of that was because of a first half in which the Falcons were dominated in a way that has seldom happened in Smiths tenure. The Falcons were outgained 270 yards to 35, as they were shut out for the first time all season during the first half, as Ryan whose final numbers were strong with 342 passing yards and a 94.1 rating and the offense sputtered for two quarters for the second time in two weeks. In Week 13, they survived against New Orleans because the defense came up with five interceptions of Drew Brees. On Sunday, the defense, playing without two starters in the secondary cornerback Asante Samuel (shoulder) and safety William Moore (hamstring), named the conferences defensive player of the week that week for his two interceptions provided no such magic. The Panthers dominated the Falcons, winning time of possession 23 minutes 48 seconds to 6:12. The Falcons huge success of the half was forcing the Panthers to kick three field goals, otherwise, the score would have been much worse. In fact, Carolina scored on its first five possessions. The Falcons forced their first punt with 2:45 left in the third quarter. Now, the Falcons, having already won the NFC South, must regroup. If they go 2-1, they will earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Yet the Giants present a difficult opponent one who ended the Falcons postseason last January, 24-2, at MetLife Stadium and who are in a dogfight for their playoff lives. Then the Falcons go on the road to face a Detroit team that could be eliminated from playoff contention by then. Finally, Atlanta hosts Tampa Bay (6-7), who also could be eliminated by the time the season finale rolls around at the Georgia Dome. Irrespective of what happens with the Lions and Bucs futures, both could be difficult opponents. In the scheme of a long NFL season, a loss like the Falcons on Sunday wasnt hugely surprising. Its just that it was out of character for them in what has been a stellar 2012 season. For the Falcons to fulfill their playoff aspirations, they will have to avoid any further repeats.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Bright future for Minnesota Timberwolves

Eli and Archie Manning say Peyton won’t likely leave Denver if he plays in 2016

NCAA mulls changes to graduate transfer and targeting rules

Cavs active in NBA trade market, covet Jared Dudley

Roger Goodell expectedly dodges Patriots-related questions at Super Bowl

Baltimore Orioles acquire starting pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

USC athletic director Pat Haden to retire in June

Report: Browns owner ‘frustrated, emotional’ about Johnny Manziel

Raiders and Texans to play MNF game in Mexico City in 2016

Goodell wants to keep Raiders, Chargers in home markets

Deadly shooting breaks out at Dublin boxing weigh-in

Mike Shula vs. Wade Phillips: The best story of Super Bowl 50

Klay Thompson's first five years in historical context

WATCH: Cubs' Kris Bryant went swimming with sharks

Sports Authority taking steps to file for bankruptcy

Major League Baseball threatens to disassociate from DraftKings

NFL considering moving Pro Bowl to Australia

Joe Montana warns NFL players about potential long-term damage after retirement

Report: Two people fired for leaking Jason Pierre-Paul information

USMNT are big favorites against Canada

‘Crying Jordan’ photographer had no idea it existed until this week

NHL nightmare: No Canadian teams in the NHL playoff hunt

Seven unheralded players set to make major impacts in SB 50

‘Actor’ Todd Gurley wants to make ‘billions’

The 14 biggest plays in Super Bowl history

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

The 14 biggest plays in Super Bowl history

Manziel's father fears for QB's life

Johnny Manziel dropped by agent

Michael Irvin: Cowboys should save Manziel

QUIZ: Name the Super Bowl halftime performers since 1991

The merits of trading Blake Griffin to the Hornets

X-factors in Super Bowl 50

Could the Marlins contend in 2016?

Report: Browns to cut Manziel in March

Browns rip Manziel in statement

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker