CHARLOTTE — Falcons coach Arthur Smith gamed a victory in New York two weeks ago by not really trying to score. Smith correctly determined that the Jets were too inept to score a go-ahead touchdown in rainy weather. The Falcons earned the ugly victory against a bad opponent then got out of town.
Smith might have been able to get away with a similar approach on Sunday in Carolina. Instead, he trusted his turnover-prone quarterback to win the game. That plan backfired when Desmond Ridder threw one of the worst interceptions you’ll ever see before the Panthers drove 90 yards for the winning field goal to win 9-7.
The Panthers (2-12) ended a seven-game losing streak. Ridder’s 10th interception of the season led to the fifth defeat in the past seven games for the Falcons. While they were blowing a game against the worst team in the NFL, the Buccaneers were wrapping up a victory at Green Bay.
The Bucs (7-7) remained on top of the NFC South. The Falcons (6-8) are on track for their sixth straight season with no playoffs after suffering their worst loss of the season. They appeared to have the game when leading 7-6 and driving from their 31-yard line to Carolina’s 18.
Ridder escaped a pass rusher and looked downfield. Teammates Kyle Pitts and Drake London were in the area. Ridder passed the ball between them, right as Panthers safety Xavier Woods stepped in. Bryce Young took over from there.
Carolina’s rookie quarterback has struggled all season but had his best moment of the season against the Falcons. Young completed passes of 19, 20 and 18 yards to get the Panthers in scoring range. Eddy Pineiro won the game with a 23-yard field goal as the clock ran out on the game and ended the notion that the Falcons are a playoff team.