The game that was
The Falcons won their seventh consecutive game as they jumped all over the lowly Panthers early and then finished them off with a late flurry. The game resembled a glorified scrimmage.The Falcons took the ball from the Panthers on the first play from scrimmage and then stifled their offense until it didn't matter. After thefumble, they forced five straight punts while mounting a 17-0 halftime lead. In the second quarter in between the fourth and fifth punts, quarterback Matt Ryan put together an 18-play mega-drive that covered 64 yards and erased 8 minutes, 48 seconds from the clock. With the game under control, the run defense took some punishment -- Carolina ran for 212 yards -- before closing with Mike Peterson's interception which was converted into a fourth-quarter touchdown.
What we learned
1. The run defense must tighten things back up. Defensive end Jonathan Abraham finished with two sacks to lead a five-sack parade. However, he was disturbed after the game about the defense giving up the 212 yards rushing. The Panthers averaged 7.6 yards per carry. He knows that teams will see what Carolina did and try to emulate it. The run defense had been ranked sixth in the league two weeks ago, but after the effort against Tampa Bay and Carolina, the defense has dropped to 13th (107.2 rushing yards per game) before the two Monday night games. Carolina's Jonathan Stewart, who finished with 133 yards, became just the fourth back this season to run for more than 100 yards against the Falcons. Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall (120), Arizona's Tim Hightower (115) and Tampa Bay's LeGarrette Blount (103) also ran for more than 100 yards on the Falcons.
2. "The Burner" is in high gear. Michael Turner appears to be getting stronger down the stretch. He has 275 carries for 1,174 yards and a team-leading 11 touchdowns after going for 112 yards on 28 carries with three touchdowns against the Panthers. He has scored at least one touchdown and has rushed for more than 100 yards in four straight games. Also, Turner became the first running back in franchise history to post three consecutive seasons with 10 or more rushing touchdowns.
3. The deep passing game returned. Last week, Ryan and wide receiver Harry Douglas spent some time after practice working on their timing. Since early in the season, Douglas has been able to get open deep, but the two have been unable to connect for long gainers. Douglas didn't play last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee early in training camp. Their extra time in practice paid off against Carolina. Douglas caught a key 46-yard pass to set up the Falcons' second touchdown.
Wide receiver Roddy White suffered a mild shoulder stinger, but returned to the game. Running back Jason Snelling (hamstring) missed his second game in a row. Linebacker Coy Wire (head) also missed the game. Snelling and Wire are expected to return to practice on Wednesday, according to head coach Mike Smith.
Tight end Tony Gonzalez caught his fifth touchdown pass of the season, which tied him with wide receiver Andre Reed for 11th on the NFL’s all-time receiving touchdowns list with 87.
"We are going to decide our own fate. Right now, you can't really take anything away from anybody if we keep winning. Everybody is talking about if this happens and if that happens. If we keep winning, we don't have to worry about all of that."
Defensive end John Abraham on the Falcons playoff scenarios.
The Falcons held the Panthers to a 23 percent third-down conversion (3 of 13) rate. ... The Falcons defense also allowed just 13 first downs in the win. ... The Falcons held the ball for 34:50 to 25:10 in time of possession. It was the eighth time the Falcons won the time of possession battle this season.
The Falcons (11-2) travel to face Seattle (6-7) at 4:05 p.m. Sunday at Qwest Field. The Seahawks are coming off a 40-21 loss to San Francisco, but are tied for first place with St. Louis in the NFC West.
D. Orlando Ledbetter