The problems at the end of halves and the end of games have been monumental as they’ve lost three games after having a win probability of 98%.
But against the Panthers, the Falcons held on. Backup cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson sealed the 25-17 victory with an interception with 57 seconds left to play on Thursday at Bank of America Stadium.
The Falcons, who had blown three fourth-quarter leads this season, improved to 2-6 on the season. The Panthers dropped to 3-5.
“That’s what we’ve been talking about right, either ending the game with a sack or interception,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said. “The guys went out today and did exactly that. The ball went up in the air and Blidi came down and made a great play. It was awesome.”
The Panthers, who defeated the Falcons 23-16 on Oct. 11, were trying to sweep the series for the first time since the 2013 season.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed 21 of 30 passes for 281 yards and one interception. He finished with a passer rating of 85.6.
The Falcons amassed 401 yards and 28 first downs. The defense held the Panthers to 2-of-10 on third downs.
Ryan is hopeful this win can spark a turnaround.
“Absolutely,” said Ryan, when asked if he was serious about a turnaround. “We’ve been in every game that we played this year. We’ve had some crazy losses, just to be frank. I really believe that we’ve got the caliber of team to go be in every game that we’re going to play for the rest of the season. Why can’t we win them all? That’s the mindset that I have.”
Here are five things we learned from the victory:
1. Red-zone woes: The Falcons moved the ball between the 20s with ease.
In the first half, the Falcons made three trips inside Carolina’s 15 and had just two field goals and a touchdown.
On their opening possession of the second half, the Falcons' drive stalled at Carolina’s 12-yard line. Kicker Younghoe Koo made a 29-yard field goal to put the Falcons up 19-14.
Koo was four of four as he made field goals of 20, 27, 36 and 29 yards.
Todd Gurley added a 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put the Falcons up 25-17. Koo missed the extra point wide right.
“We have to score touchdowns,” wide receiver Julio Jones said. “We have too many great players at a lot of positions. The offensive line is doing a great job. ... We have to score touchdowns.”
2. Jones unstoppable: Jones, who didn’t play in the first meeting, turned in a big night.
He had seven catches for 137 yards midway through the third quarter.
“We just took what they gave us," Jones said. "They tried to go zone early on in the game and we knew they were going to have open holes in there. Matt was delivering strikes to me.”
It was Jones’ 58th career game with at least 100 receiving yards, the most among active players and the fourth-most in NFL history. Only Pro Football Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (76), Randy Moss (64) and Marvin Harrison (59) have more.
Jones has 12,709 receiving yards, surpassing Torry Holt (12,660) for the second-most receiving yards through a player’s first 10 seasons in NFL history. Only Rice (13,275) has more.
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
3. Harris ejected: The Falcons had a pass rush, but lost one of the rushers after a bone-headed play.
Linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal had success blitzing. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett also had some pressure.
Cornerback Isaiah Oliver had a sack for a 12-yard loss, Dante Fowler had a sack for loss of two yards and Deion Jones had a sack. The Falcons also had six quarterback hits and four tackles for losses.
But in the third quarter, when the team was trying to get off the field, Fowler stuck out his leg to trip Bridgewater. Defensive end Charles Harris came it with a shot to Bridgewater’s head and he was ejected from the game.
The drive, which was already kept alive with a 28-yard fake punt, had new life with at first-and-10 at the Falcons' 24. It ended with a field goal, but the Falcons still led 19-17.
“I know he ran up on him," Morris said of Harris' hit. "I know he hit him. I’m not sure he made full contact with his head, but the officials saw it that way and so did New York. You have to deal with it. Get him off the field and you keep playing and you finish the game.”
4. Running back by committee: Running back Ito Smith was inactive and Qadree Ollison was activated.
Gurley started and then Brian Hill played most of the second quarter.
On a third-and-2 in the second quarter, Ollison came on and picked up the first down on a gain of 3 yards.
Four plays later, Ryan scooted around right end for a 13-yard touchdown run.
“It was a big score for us there, we needed it,” Ryan said.
The Falcons rushed for a season-high 166 yards in the previous meeting.
With Ryan helping with some key scrambles, the Falcons turned in another strong rushing game.
The Falcons rushed 36 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
Gurley rushed 18 times for 46 yards and a touchdown. Hill rushed 11 times for 55 yards and Ryan added 27 yards on six rushes. Ollison had a carry for 3 yards.
Hill sparked the running game.
“I thought he ran the ball hard, no question about it,” Ryan said. “He’s a guy that has great speed and explosiveness when he gets through the line. Our offensive line did a good job of opening up some holes for him.”
5. Injury report: Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who had three catches for 42 yards, left in the second quarter with a left ankle injury.
After halftime with the Falcons leading 16-14, Ridley was ruled out of the game. Christian Blake and Russell Gage took over for Ridley.
Ridley had eight catches for 136 yards in the previous meeting with the Panthers on Oct. 11.
Over his career in five games against the Panthers, Ridley had 509 yards receiving (101.8 per game) and four touchdowns.
Cornerback Kendall Sheffield was hit early by Neal and left the game. He was checked for a head injury, but returned to the game.
He left again in the fourth quarter to be evaluated for another head injury.
Falcons' upcoming games
Broncos at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8
Falcons at Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22
Las Vegas Raiders at Falcons at 1 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 29
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.