5 things we learned from Falcons’ win over Panthers

The Falcons are determined to finish the season strong.

In a battle for second place in the NFC South, the Falcons prevailed over the Panthers 24-10 on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

“Anytime that you are playing, it’s important to win,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “Specifically, in the division, there are always matchups that you want to come up on the right side of them. ... We want to make sure that we are playing our best football to close out the season.”

The Falcons improved to 6-9, while the Panthers, playing with backup quarterbacks Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen, dropped to 6-9.

The Falcons swept the two-game season series from the Panthers, who have now dropped seven consecutive games after starting the season 6-2.

The game was tied 10-10 at halftime, while the Falcons added two third-quarter touchdown passes to pull away.

Ryan, who also had a 1-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones, connected with rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley for a 75-yard score and tossed a 44-yard touchdown to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu in the third quarter.

“Rarely in this league do you get two long touchdowns in a game that are untouchded,” Ryan said. “Both of those guys were untouched.”

It was just a matter of holding the lead against the Panthers’ backup quarterback Heinicke after building the lead.

Ryan completed 15 of 26 passes for 239 yards. He finished with a passer rating of 126.9.

Heinicke, who played at Collins Hill High, competed 33 of 53 passes for 274 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He finished the game with 58.2 passer rating. He left with a left elbow injury, but later returned to finish the game.

“Their quarterback showed a lot of fight today,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We tried to get after him, but he kept responding and fighting, too.”

Here are five things we learned from the Falcons’ win:

1. Opening drives: The Panthers and the Falcons opened the game with long sustained drives.

The Panthers had the ball first.

Heinicke, who was making his first NFL start, tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ian Thomas to cap a 14-play, 73 yards drive that took 8:03 off the clock.

The Falcons answered with their own touchdown drive.

Ryan tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jones to cap a 13-play, 85-yard drive that took 6:19 off the clock.

The Falcons have totaled 41 points on their first offensive possessions this season. They entered the game tied for ninth in the league in first-possession points.

2. Ridley vs. Moore battle: On the first play of the third quarter, Ryan connected with Ridley to take a 17-10 lead over the Panthers.

It was Ridley’s ninth touchdown catch of the season and tied the franchise mark for rookies set by tight end Junior Miller in 1980. Ridley did not have a touchdown catch in the previous three games. He last caught a touchdown pass against the Saints on Nov. 22.

“The safety and the corner went with the play and they left me wide open,” Ridley said. “That’s pretty much what it was. They jumped the run and left me wide open. I made a good play.”

The Panthers selected wide receiver D.J. Moore two picks ahead of Ridley, who was the 26th overall pick in the 2018 draft.

Ridley had three catches for 90 yards and a touchdown. He had 44 yards after the catch.

Moore had two catches for 19 yards and 16 yards after the catch.

3. Bosher lower boom:  Falcons punter Matt Bosher lowered the boom on Panthers returner Kenyon Barner after a 33-yard return in the second quarter that was highlight worthy.

“I think it brought a lot of energy to the sidelines,” Quinn said. “All of the teammates know who tough he is. But when the hit happened today, it was clearly one that got everybody excited.”

4. Stopping McCaffery: The Falcons defense swarmed  Panthers running back Christian McCaffery, who finished with 178 total yards.

With Heinicke making his first NFL start, the Panthers had little choice but try to unleash their spark-plug running back.

“He’s been a problem in a matchup in man or zone,” Quinn said. “He had more in the run game than we’d like for sure. He’s a difficult guy to corral and tackle.”

5a. Ryan climbs list: Ryan entered the game tied with Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas for 14th on the all-time passing touchdown list with 290. With his three touchdown passes, he moved pass Unitas and Warren Moon (292) on the all-time list.

Carson Palmer is 12th with 294 touchdown passes.

Ryan, who entered the game with 46,103 yards passing also moved past Vinny Testaverde (46,233) and Palmer (46,247) on the NFL’s all-time passing list. Ryan ended the game in the 12th spot. Ryan trails Fran Tarkenton (47,003) who is 11th and Warren Moon (49,325) is 10th.

5b. Red zone stops: The Falcons defense stopped four red-zone scoring threats by the Panthers.

“The takeaways in the red zone were the key,” Quinn said.

In the second quarter, defensive tackle Jack Crawford, who’d dropped into coverage, intercepted Heinicke on a second down-and-goal from the 4-yard line to thwart a promising drive with 56 seconds left in the second quarter.

It was Crawford’s first career interception.

Late in the third quarter, on second-and-18, Brian Poole made an interception at the 19-yard line to stop another drive.

With 8:29 left in the game, the Panthers went for it on fourth down-and-1 from the 6 yard line. Cornerback Desmond Trufant broke up a pass intended for Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel.

With 1:29 to play, rookie cornerback Isaiah Oliver intercepted a pass in the end zone that was intended for Carolina wide receiver Devin Funchess.