Winning: some teams are so used to it that they are complacent with it, while others are starving for it, practically begging for the chance to leave the field as the “top dogs”. Even though the Atlanta Falcons didn’t find themselves on either side of the spectrum prior to today, they definitely satisfied their faithful fanbase today, defeating the Carolina Panthers by a score of 31-17.
The Falcons got the scoring going at the end of the in first quarter, putting 7 points on the board on a one-yard run by Michael Turner, which effectively ended a 7 play, 81-yard drive by the Atlanta offense. After rookie quarterback Cam Newton led Carolina on a 13 play, 85-yard drive that ended with a one yard run by Jonathan Stewart and gave the Panthers a 10-7 lead, Matt Ryan got the Falcons going again, leading an incredible 12-play, 95 yard drive that ended with another touchdown, this one on a 1-yard pass from Ryan to fullback Ovie Mughelli, giving Atlanta a slim 14-10 lead.
Determined to have an impressive game in front of his hometown, Newton opened up the third quarter with another scoring drive, this one coming on a 14-yard run by Newton that was followed by a celebration “tribute” to Mr. Prime Time himself, Deion Sanders. The teams traded punts back-and-forth for the rest of the third quarter, leading to an intense fourth quarter in which Atlanta found themselves down 17-14. The Falcons tied the game at 17 with 14:12 left in the fourth on a 24-yard field goal by Matt Bryant, giving Newton and the Panthers the offense the chance to respond. However, an offensive holding call on Carolina doomed their drive before it even got started, and after three plays they were forced to put again. Atlanta then scored to re-take the lead on a 1-yard run by Matt Ryan, giving the Falcons a 24-17 lead. With seven minutes left in the game, Cam Newton had plenty of time to take his team down the field and tie the game up, but a pass intended for DeAngelo Williams on the first play of the drive was intercepted by Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters. Atlanta officially put the game away on the drive following the impressive INT, taking 4:10 off the clock before Michael Turner crossed the goal line for the second time in the game. The Panthers drove down to the Atlanta 16 with just a few seconds left, but Newton was intercepted for the third time in the game, this time by Thomas DeCoud. The play turned out to be the last of the game, a nice explanation point on a much-needed 31-17 win for the Falcons.
Even though some of the numbers weren’t breath-taking, the Falcons did what they had to do to get the victory over Carolina in the Georgia Dome. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder made it a point to make Cam Newton uncomfortable in this game, leading to 8 QB hits, 2 sacks, and 3 INTs for the hungry Falcons defense. The Atlanta offense looked more like their 2010 version (could that be due to Julio Jones’ absence?), holding onto the ball for four quarters of football and racking up 325 yards in the process. While improvements still need to be made in nearly every aspect of this team, the fact of the matter is Atlanta came out on top in this one, leaving them just one game behind Tampa Bay and New Orleans in the battle for the NFC South title.
The Falcons face a major road test in their next game, as they travel to Michigan to take on the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. The Lions have been one of the feel-good stories on the season, as they currently sit at 5-1 and are poised to at least obtain a Wild Card spot this season, ending their 12-year long playoff drought. You can expect Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, arguably the hottest tandem in the NFL, to try and take advantage of the Falcons 28th-ranked pass defense, something that players of much-less caliber have done throughout the season. Although it’s hard to predict what will happen in a game like this, one thing’s for sure: Mike Smith better take his time when he shakes Lions head coach Jim Schwartz’s hand, because if he doesn’t there will be hell to pay.