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Despite enduring a disappointing start to the regular season, the Carolina Panthers (1-4) travelled to The Georgia Dome with hopes of upsetting the inconsistent Atlanta Falcons (2-3). The Falcons, current NFC South champions, have recorded close fought victories over both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seattle Seahawks, and they remained confident of adding the Panthers to the list.
The game started much as expected, with the Falcons utilizing hard-hitting running back Michael Turner to break through the poor rush defense of the Panthers, and tight end Tony Gonzalez offering up the short yardage pass plays for quarterback Matt Ryan.
Contrastingly, the Panthers looked to exploit to the thus far disappointing pass defense of the Falcons, with rookie sensation Cam Newton looking to wide receiver Steve Smith frequently, a relationship which has already provided Smith with more receiving yards in his first five games of the season than he managed in the entire 2010-11 season.
Given the ease at which both of these teams have given up 3rd down conversions so far this season, it was surprising that the scoreline was just 3-0 to the Panthers following a 47-yard field goal as the 1st quarter entered its last minute. This was not to last however, and Charles Godfrey was charged with pass interference following a push on receiver Roddy White in the end-zone, an action which resulted in Turner barreling his way over from close range for the TD.
The 2nd quarter began with the Panthers in possession, and looking eager to learn a lesson from the Falcons, running the ball through DeAngelo Williams, and targeting tight end Jeremy Shockey for short-medium range gains.
The drive proved successful, setting up the Panthers with a 1st and goal situation, which powerful running back Jonathan Stewart forced his way over from, giving Carolina back the lead.
But the Panthers’ ill discipline was to hurt them yet again, with Chris Gamble calling for pass interference on White in the end-zone, earning the Falcons 1st and goal, and Ovie Mughelli was on the end of a 1-yard pass to put the Falcons back on top.
With both defenses underperforming, and Newton continuing his recent form, it looked as if the Panthers would extend their lead a minute from the half, as they were camped within the Falcons’ 20-yard line, but William Moore managed to tip the rookie’s pass, and send it into the hands of Brent Grimes, whose interception kept the Falcons ahead as both teams walked off at the interval.
The Falcons newly found defensive proficiency was not to last into the second half however, with Newton leading the Panthers towards the Falcons end-zone with a series of rushes and passes, all culminating in Newton himself running for a 14-yard TD, leaving the score at 17-14 to the visitors.
It seemed as if Head Coach Ron Rivera had a thing or two to say to his team after the 3rd quarter, and the Panthers defense came out with the Falcons poised at 2nd and goal. Putting in their performance of the game so far, they held out the Faclons, limiting the home team to just three points, leveling the scores, and setting up an exciting final quarter.
With the Panthers defense continuing to look more solid, a 3rd and 12 situation in the middle of the field looked as if it would probably end up being punted away, but a pass to Harry Douglas brought Atlanta all the way up to the 13. The Falcons then returned to Turner, who had been exceptional all game long, and the running back rushed for 11 yards, allowing Ryan to go over with the sneak at 1st and goal.
It looked as if the Panthers were on their way to regaining the lead, after an impressive run from Williams saw the running back break into the Falcons secondary for a big gain, only to see Corey Peters grab an interception on the next play, and return possession to the Falcons for Mike Smith’s men to run out the clock.
With over four minutes left on the clock however, and the marauding Turner being given the ball on almost every play, it was inevitable that Northern Illinois grad would grab another TD and secure the game for Atlanta.
Whilst neither team will be happy with their defensive performance, a couple of interceptions for the Falcons, and two moments of poor discipline in the Panthers secondary ultimately swung this game for Atlanta. And Panthers quarterback Newton will leave the Georgia Dome frustrated by his team’s defense, who have yet again lost the visitors a game which they will feel they could have won, the final score 31-17 to the Falcons.
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