Everyone knows the Saints are the most hated rival for the Falcons. Yet it was the Panthers who once inspired quarterback Matt Ryan to betray his nondescript public persona and do a bit of trash talking.
Television cameras caught Ryan on the sideline yelling at the Panthers to “get the (expletive) off my field” at the end of a Falcons victory in 2012. Afterwards, Ryan sheepishly explained that he got caught up in the heat of the moment.
Emotions often seem to boil over when the Falcons and Panthers play. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the contentiousness from recent meetings carries over when the Falcons (9-5) play at the Panthers (6-8) on Saturday.
“Oh yeah, big time,” Falcons right tackle Ryan Schraeder said. “Any time we go up against those guys, it’s personal.”
After winning the NFC title last season the Panthers have a mathematically-small chance of going back to the playoffs. The Falcons dominated them for a 48-33 victory at the Georgia Dome on Oct. 3.
But the Panthers showed new life in beating San Diego and Washington over the past two weeks. And the Panthers surely would delight in sticking it to the Falcons, who need to beat the Panthers and then the Saints to be assured of the NFC South title.
“It’s always the same,” Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow said. “You always expect that (antagonism). Records go out the window. It’s going to be a battle.”
The Falcons hold a 26-17 edge in the all-time series that began in 1995, Carolina’s first season as an expansion franchise. The series was fairly even in its early years and then the Falcons enjoyed an 18-7 advantage from 2000 through 2011.
The Panthers gained on the Falcons when they drafted Newton, a Westlake High product, in 2011. After losing twice to the Falcons as a rookie, Newton has won five of the last eight meetings as the Panthers captured the past three division titles.
The Panthers have been built around a physical run game that includes Newton plus an aggressive defense.
“All the plays are finished,” Worrilow said. “Every second in between the whistles you are going at it. It’s not a game you come into it with a weak attitude. We see them twice a year and they are just hard, physical games.”
Ryan’s actions at the end of the 2012 game at the Georgia Dome injected venom into the rivalry. After the Panthers won the rematch that season, Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy echoed Ryan by telling the Falcons to “get the (expletive) off our field” as the teams met for post-game pleasantries.
An unidentified Falcons player told Hardy the Panthers still were a “sorry” team, prompting Hardy to snap back. Falcons kicker Matt Bryant got the last word: “Enjoy watching us in January.” The Panthers were 4-9 after that victory and finished 7-9, six games behind the NFC South champion Falcons.
The mutual animosity resurfaced when the Falcons and Panthers brawled during a game on Nov. 16, 2014, prompting the NFL to fine five players. There were no major incidents during the rematch later that season but the bad feelings returned in 2015.
The Panthers irked the Falcons when, during a 38-0 loss in Carolina, Newton and 16 other players posed for pictures on the sideline. The Falcons handed the Panthers their first loss in the 2015 regular-season finale and some Falcons players made sure to note that Newton left the field quickly that time.
Those games were Dan Quinn’s introduction to the Panthers rivalry as Falcons coach. Quinn said he would warn his players about getting too caught up in the passion of the game on Saturday.
“We try to take it right up to the cusp of being emotional but not losing your mind where you can’t play at your best,” Quinn said. “That’s not specific necessarily to this week, where we’re going to try and do something differently or play in a different style or different way. That’s not our way at all. But what we do want to do is make sure we keep our poise so we can finish better so we can have that intent all the way throughout.”