“It’s tough to lose two straight in five days,” Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “That’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Led by D’Onta Foreman, the Panthers rushed 47 times for 232 yards on the Falcons. Foreman, a former Falcon, rushed 31 times for 130 yards and a touchdown.
“I feel like all of our runs were pretty good, and we stuck with it and made it work,” Foreman said.
It was the most rushing yards surrendered by the Falcons’ defense this season. Cleveland rushed for 177 on the Falcons on Oct. 2. Foreman’s total also was a season-high. Cleveland’s Nick Chubb and Foreman, on Oct. 30, both rushed for 118 against the Falcons.
“I don’t think that it was so much Atlanta,” Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks said. “It just happened that with these two games, we try to do the same thing. … It’s just a mindset we’re trying to create.”
The Falcons continued to struggle with getting the ball to tight end Kyle Pitts. He caught only two of eight targets for 28 yards.
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
Mariota completed 19 of 30 passes for 186 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He finished with a passer rating of 89.
The Falcons cut the lead to seven, 22-15, with 2:56, but the anemic passing attack was not up to the task of driving the field for a touchdown.
“I was playing a little bit outside of myself,” Mariota said. “Trying to make a play too many times, and it hurt our team.”
With the Panthers taking a lead, then running most of the clock, Mariota found himself in a bad place.
“I was trying to create a spark,” Mariota said. “I think throughout my career, that’s when I get myself in the most trouble. Ill-advised throws … (instead of) just maybe scrambling getting a few yards and keeping the chains moving.”
Falcons coach Arthur Smith said he did not consider turning to rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder.
“Guys, you can make it about the quarterback,” Smith said. “How about (making it) about the team. We had our opportunities at the end of the fourth quarter the last two weeks. There are a lot of different ways and a lot of different phases.”
Behind their punishing ground attack, the Panthers held a 13-3 lead at halftime.
The Panthers attacked the middle of the Falcons’ defense, and then when they sucked the Falcons inside, the Panthers connected on a big play outside.
The Falcons entered the game averaging 162.9 yards rushing per game, which ranked fourth in the NFL. The Panthers were ready for the Falcons’ rushing attack and held them to 33 yards rushing in the first half.
The Falcons’ opening drive stalled, and the Panthers answered with a 46-yard field goal by kicker Eddie Pineiro, who missed an 48-yard extra-point attempt and a 32-yard field-goal attempt in overtime in the teams’ previous meeting Oct. 30.
The Falcons had a promising drive going and had moved into Panthers territory at the 33, but consecutive holding penalties were called on left guard Colby Gossett to stall the drive.
The Panthers then went on a 14-play drive. The Falcons got a sack by Dee Alford and Arnold Ebiketie on a third-and-12 and didn’t give up any points.
The Panthers pinned the Falcons at the 3-yard line. With a tired defense, the Falcons needed at least to run some clock while on offense. But the Falcons were stopped after three consecutive runs, and punter Bradley Pinion shanked a punt for 31 yards.
The Panthers had the ball at the Falcons’ 43. After a 2-yard pass to fullback Giovanni Ricci, PJ Walker tossed a backward swing pass to Laviska Shenault, who scored from 41 yards out to put the Panthers up 10-0. The play counted as part of the rushing total.
A Mariota pass intended for wide receiver Drake London was intercepted by Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn with 4:11 left in the second quarter.
The Panthers added a 49-yard field goal by Pineiro to make the score 13-0 with 1:47 left in the first half.
The Falcons finally went on the move. Mariota connected with London for a 14-yard gain. Panthers safety Xavier Woods was called for unnecessary roughness to move the ball to the Panthers’ 46.
The Falcons moved to the 15-yard line, and Younghoe Koo made a 33-yard field goal for the halftime margin.
The Falcons had an eventful day as left tackle Jake Matthews made it to the game an hour before kickoff after witnessing the birth of his son.
Cornerback Rashad Fenton started at right cornerback for Cornell Armstrong, who started the past two games for the Falcons with A.J. Terrell out.
During that long 14-play drive, rookie linebacker Troy Andersen went in for Mykal Walker in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, after two punts by the Panthers and one by the Falcons, the field had been flipped.
The Falcons started their second drive at the Panthers’ 42. On an incomplete pass to Pitts, Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson was called for pass interference to move the ball to the 31.
After two runs by Tyler Allgeier (each for 6 yards) and a 11-yard run by Caleb Huntley, Mariota tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to London. Koo missed the extra-point attempt wide right to make the score 13-9 with 6:15 to play in the third.
The Panthers hit on another explosive play of 40 yards or more when Walker found wide receiver Terrace Marshall for a 43-yard gain to move the ball to the Falcons 38.
Six plays later, Foreman scored on a 12-yard touchdown run to cap a seven play, 84-yard touchdown drive that took 4:24 off the clock. Pineiro missed the extra-point attempt wide right to make the score 19-9 with 1:51 left in the third quarter.
The Falcons ensuing drive stalled, and Pinion shanked another punt that went 28 yards.
The Panthers had the ball at their 24 and went back to pounding it at the Falcons. Pineiro added a 40-yard field with 9:22 left in the game.
After an exchange of punts, Mariota tossed 25-yard touchdown pass to KhaDarel Hodge, but Koo missed the extra-point attempt wide left with 2:56 left to play.
The Panthers couldn’t run out the clock, and the Falcons got the ball back 2:33 to play after Richie Grant barely missed an interception and a potential pick-6.
The Falcons couldn’t move the ball through the air and gave up two sacks.
The Panthers added a 40-yard field goal with 10 seconds left.
The Falcons will host the Chicago Bears at 1 p.m. Nov. 20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We’ve got to get better,” Smith said. “I’m thankful that we’ve got an opportunity to go and do that with seven games left.”
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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 Chargers 20, Falcons 17
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