FLOWERY BRANCH -- The Falcons stopped their five-year streak of opening the season with a loss with a 24-10 win over the Panthers on Sunday.

The Falcons came on strong down the stretch to pull away from the Panthers and their rookie quarterback Bryce Young.

The Falcons turned three turnovers into 17 points while the offense (meek passing attack) and defense (too leaky in the run game) will be forced to work through their early-season issues.

“There were parts of the game that weren’t aesthetically pleasing like I said yesterday postgame in the press conference, but we found a way to win,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said on Monday. “We needed to make those plays late. ... However you have to do it, we needed to get that win especially at home. It was in division. It’s much better to start and correct off 1-0 than being in the hole.”

Here are five takeaways from the game:

1. Ridder took care of ball. In his five NFL starts, Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder has not thrown an interception.

He was 15 of 18 passes (83.3%) for 118 yards and a touchdown Sunday.

The Panthers took away Ridders’ favorite receiver Drake London and he threw nine passes to running backs Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier, who caught all of those targets.

Ridder became the second quarterback since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970 with no interceptions (min. 14 attempts per game) in his first five career starts, joining Dak Prescott (2016).

The Falcons came out trying to throw, but the first pass was batted in the air and Ridder caught it. London dropped his only target.

The Falcons had the 31st passing attack last season at 158.8 yards a game. They’ll need to improve the passing attack.

“We’ve got to clean some things up,” Smith said. “We can all be better in our spacing.”

London was the Falcons’ leading receiver last season with 71 catches for 866 yards and four touchdowns.

“Drake London doesn’t care,” Smith said. “All we care about is 1-0. We have a lot of work – and that has to improve because it’s not going to sustain every week. Every week is its own entity. We don’t care about the stats. We care about winning.”

They could have been working on that spacing in the exhibition season, but elected not to play the starters very much.

2. Left guard spot settled. You didn’t hear rookie left guard Matthew Bergeron’s name during the game and that’s a good thing for a lineman.

“Very solid,” Smith said. “He’s a strong player.”

The second-round pick from Syracuse started at left guard. The Falcons had six different players start at that position last season.

“The one guy, it’s a good thing we’re not talking about an offensive lineman, but Bergeron, moment wasn’t too big for him either, just like Bijan,” Smith said. “(The Panthers’) Derrick Brown is good. Shaq Thompson, he’s so smart. When you’re in a chess match with those guys, you’ve got to bring your A game.”

3. Defensive spending. A total of $132.3 million in upgrades on defense started for the Falcons against the Panthers.

Safety Jessie Bates III (four years, $64.02 million), Tre Flowers (one year, $1.8 million), linebacker Kaden Elliss (three years, $21.5 million), defensive end Calais Campbell (one year, $7 million), defensive tackle David Onyemata (three years, $35 million) and outside linebacker Bud Dupree (one year, $3 million).

Bates replaced Jaylinn Hawkins, who started the regular-season finale in 2022. Flowers replaced Cornell Armstrong, Elliss replaced Rashaan Evans, Campbell replaced Ade Ogundeji, David Onyemata replaced Abdullah Anderson and Dupree replaced Lorenzo Carter.

Bates turned in the monster game. But Onyemata also had a major impact.

Onyemata, who was named the sixth captain for the game, was a force inside. He had four tackles, a tackle for loss, two quarterback hits and a pass breakup.

Elliss had nine tackles. Flowers, who was targeted by the Panthers, had eight tackles.

Linbackers Elliss and Troy Andersen need to tighten up the run defense. The Panthers rushed 32 times for 154 yards for an average per carry of 4.8 yards.

4. Old sacks guys. Former Georgia standout Justin Houston and Campbell, both played for Baltimore last season.

Houston, 34, who signed with the Panthers in free agency, entered the game with 111.5 career sacks. Campbell, 37, needed one sack to reach 100 and become the sixth active player with 100 career sacks. Both players were held sackless.

But Campbell got his hands on Youg and nearly got a sack.

“I think I was a little too eager to get to that 100th,” Campbell said. “Got a little too excited. Sometimes you have to settle down and be efficient with where you grab him and get him down. He’s slippery. He’s tough. I think he’s going to be a good young player.”

The Falcons got two sacks and seven quarterbacks hits on Young. Andersen and Grady Jarrett split a sack and Carter had a sack.

“That was his first time in (NFL) football action,” Campbell said. “We made it hard on him. We definitely made him have to hand the ball off and check to runs. They ran the ball a little too good for us. He made good reads and made some good decisions. He’s going to get better as time goes along.”

Campbell thought he had Young.

“I definitely thought I was going to get him down,” Campbell said. “I grabbed what I could, but he just found a way to stay on his feet.”

Campbell played 51 of the 77 defensive snaps (66%). He was disruptive and had a tackle. But he wanted to discuss the sack that got away.

“I beat my man with a great cross chop,” Campbell said. “I turned the edge, but he got just enough of my hip ... just kind of made it where I had to reach out hard for him instead of being able to turn and go get him.”

5. Backup returners. With Cordarrelle Patterson inactive, the Falcons used running back Godwin Igwebuike as the kickoff returner.

Cornerback Dee Alford and wide receiver Scotty Miller split the punt return chores.

Carolina had three touchbacks on their kickoffs.

Alford returned a punt for no gain and Miller had one return for 4 yards.

Alford was replaced late because he played a lot of snaps on defense. He played 72 of the 77 defensive snaps (94%).

“I had to go up against Adam Thielen the full game,” Alford said. “That was the game plan for me, was to eliminate him and I felt like I did a great job on him. You know, take him away from the game. He was only had, I want to say two catches. He’s a great player.”

The Bow Tie Chronicles