The Falcons improved to 4-4 and now have sole possession of first place in the NFC South. The Panthers dropped to 2-6. The Bucs and the Saints are 3-5.
“I’m just happy to get the win,” said Smith about being in first place. “We have to look at tape and get on to the Chargers. It’s hard to win in this league. We’ll enjoy the win, but there is a lot of football left.”
Linebacker Mykal Walker said, “Anytime that you’re in first place, that says something. The guys who have been here a couple of years, this means a lot to us. It is going on Year 3, and now we’re in first place. Just don’t look back.”
It was a wild finish.
After Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota tossed his second interception of the game in overtime, Panthers kicker Eddy Pineiro missed a 33-yard field goal wide left. The Falcons had life and quickly drove into field-goal range for Koo.
Mariota had a 30-yard run in overtime that helped the Falcons get into field-goal range.
“This was an unbelievable job by our guys staying in the moment,” Mariota said. “Staying present and understanding that if there is time on the clock that we’ve got a chance.”
It was Koo’s first game-winning kick this season.
“It was (long snapper) Liam’s (McCullough’s) first game-winning snap,” Koo said. “He did a great job. It was a money snap and hold by Bradley (Pinion). The front guys did a great job blocking. That just made my job easier.”
The game went back and forth in the final minutes of regulation, with three touchdowns being scored over the final 3:06.
The Panthers tied the game at 34 on a 62-yard pass from P.J. Walker to D.J. Moore with 12 seconds left in regulation. In his jubilation, Moore took his helmet off and went into the stands. The Falcons took the unsportsmanlike penalty on the extra point, and Pineiro was wide left on the PAT.
The Panthers’ drive was aided by an unnecessary-roughness call on Falcons special teamer Feleipe Franks. Instead of starting at the 25-yard line, the Panthers started at their 40.
The Panthers overcame a third-and-13 and a second-and-18 on their way to the end zone. Wide receiver Terrace Marshall broke free for a 39-yard gain to move the ball to the 11. After losing a yard, D’Onta Foreman scored on a 12-yard run with 3:06 to play to make it 28-24.
The Falcons moved the ball quickly into Panthers’ territory at the 47. Mariota then connected with Damiere Byrd, who picked up blocks from tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receiver Drake London and raced in untouched just before the two-minute warning to make it 31-28.
“There were were so many ups and downs,” Byrd said. “But we were able to fight through.”
Byrd had a 75-yard touchdown reception last week in the 35-17 loss to the Bengals. He described his catch-and-run against the Panthers.
“I was just really trying to find green grass and follow the big guys,” said Byrd, who is 5-foot-9 and 172 pounds. “The big, strong guys because they are going to get those good blocks. That was it.”
The play ignited the Falcons’ sideline and had Mercedes-Benz Stadium rocking.
After the Falcons’ defense stopped the Panthers, Koo added a 34-yard field goal to make it 34-28.
Then Moore, Carolina’s top receiving threat, hauled in a pass with safety Dean Marlowe and linebacker Rashaan Evans in coverage to tie the game at 34.
The Falcons had a few answers in overtime, however.
Mariota completed 20 of 28 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns. He had two interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 105.2.
Running back Caleb Huntley led the Falcons’ rushing attack with 91 yards on 16 carries, while Pitts had five receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown.
Running back Tyler Allgeier had 14 rushes for 39 yards and caught three passes for 46 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown pass.
Behind an interception returned for a touchdown and a touchdown pass to Pitts, the Falcons held a 14-10 lead at halftime.
The Falcons’ offense came out misfiring.
Pitts dropped a pass on the first play, and Mariota tossed an interception while trying to connect on a deep pass to Byrd on the second play.
The defense forced a punt, Allgeier ripped off a nice 15-yard run, but the drive stalled three plays later as Mariota was sacked by linebacker Frankie Luvu on third-and-10.
Carolina’s Shi Smith returned Pinion’s punt 22 yards to Atlanta’s 37.
The Panthers didn’t fully capitalize on the great field position. On fourth-and 4 from the 19, Pineiro made a 37-yard field goal to make it 3-0.
After an exchange of punts, the Falcons finally got moving on offense. Mariota connected with Avery Williams on third-and-3 for an 8-yard gain to keep the drive moving. Three plays later, Mariota found Pitts for a 26-yard gain to move to the Panthers’ 16-yard line.
Three runs moved it down to the 2, and Mariota tossed a strike to Pitts to put the Falcons up 7-3.
The Panthers answered with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that was capped by Foreman’s 2-yard touchdown run to make it 10-7.
After the Falcons stalled, the Panthers had the ball on first-and-10 from their 37. Walker tried to throw a screen to Foreman.
Falcons outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter sniffed out the play, intercepted the ball and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown.
In the third quarter, Pineiro added a 42-yard field goal to make it 14-13.
After an exchange of punts, the Falcons put together an eight-play, 62-yard touchdown drive. Pitts and London caught passes to keep the drive moving.
Mariota tossed a screen pass to Allgeier, and he scored from 25 yards. He picked up key blocks from Elijah Wilkinson and Drew Dalman to put the Falcons up 21-13 with 1:40 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers answered with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Foreman scored on a 1-yard run and made the two-point conversion run to make it 21-21 with 11:46 to play.
The Falcons added a 30-yard field goal from Koo to make it 24-21 with 7:33 left to play.
The Falcons are set to host the Los Angeles Chargers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
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The Bow Tie Chronicles
Atlanta Falcons 2022 schedule
Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26
Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27
Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23
Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20
Oct. 9 Buccaneers 21, Falcons 15
Oct. 16 Falcons 28, 49ers 14
Oct. 23 Bengals 35, Falcons 17
Oct. 30 Falcons 37, Panthers 34, OT
Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.
Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.
Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.
Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.
Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD
Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.
Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD