Matt Bryant kicked a 33 yard field goal to complete the Atlanta Falcons late comeback defeating the visiting Carolina Panthers 30-28 at the Georgia Dome.
Atlanta led by as much as ten points in the third quarter before the Panthers made their run. Cam Newton kicked it in gear with directing a 12 play, 77 yard drive. The Atlanta native threw for 47 yards and rushed for 24 more including a 4 yard touchdown run to draw the Panthers within a field goal.
Carolina took the lead on a 36 yard touchdown pass to Kealoha Pilares. The second year receiver from Hawaii waited for two blocks and then sprinted untouched for the score that put the Panthers ahead.
Matt Ryan, perhaps delivering a preview of what was about to come, marched the Falcons down to the Panthers 13 yard line. Before the fifth year signal caller could make a play for the end zone, Carolina’s defensive line delivered yet another sack on Ryan. It was one of seven sacks for the Panthers on the day.
Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera believes the play of the defensive line can be used as a building block. “Those guys played hard and did the things we needed them to do,” said Rivera.
Stuck in the redzone, Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith sent the field goal team on to make it a one point game with nearly five minutes to play.
After scoring twice on their last three drives, Newton and the Panthers offense bogged down gaining just two yards in the series. Atlanta fared a little better gaining 7 yards before having to punt the ball back to Carolina with two and a half minutes to play.
The fate of the game was right where Rivera and the Panthers wanted it. Carolina just needed to keep the game clock moving and the ball out of Ryan’s hands. As expected, the first two plays were running plays. And then the unthinkable happened. Newton fumbled on third and two. The second year starter fumbled in 4 games in his first season and had just one game with multiple (2) fumbles.
Newton’s fumble left the Panthers with a big decision with 1 yard to go on fourth down. Instead of risking getting stopped and turning the ball over to the Falcons at midfield, Rivera opted to punt the ball.
"I was hoping they would punt it to us,” said Mike Smith. “And that's the right thing to do in that situation on a fourth down and 1 they did what most any coaches do, try and pull you offsides take the 5 yards, they took advantage of the 5 yards, were able to kick the ball inside the 5-yard line so it was a very good strategic move.
Brad Nortman tried his best to make the Falcons last drive difficult pinning Ryan and the offense on the two yard line with a 49 yard punt.
On first down Ryan went for broke to his favorite target Roddy White. Lurking at midfield was Haruki Nakamura. The free agent from the Baltimore Ravens tried his luck a second time taking the same underneath path he used to intercept Ryan and thwart a first quarter redzone drive. It didn’t work out quite that way. White out-jumped safety Haruki Nakamura to haul in the pass for a 59 yard gain.
“You have to keep the ball in front of you,” said Rivera.
White’s catch set the wheels in motion for the game winning kick. Ryan added another 13 yards passing on the drive to finish with 369 yards on 25 of 40 passing.
Note: Michael Turner broke the hundred yard barrier for the first time in the 2012 season.
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