Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and rushed for 72 yards to lead the Carolina Panthers to their first season sweep of the Atlanta Falcons since 2005 with a 21-20 win.
“It wasn’t pretty,” said Newton of the game. Twenty-two minutes into the game Carolina trailed their division rivals 10-0. On their second drive of the second quarter DeAngelo Williams nearly changed it taking the flare pass from Newton 56 yards downfield. Williams may have scored but rookie defensive back Robert Alford stripped the unsuspecting back at the Atlanta 18 yard line. The Falcons other rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant recovered the advancing ball at the 4 yard line.
As fate would have it Williams’ fumble led to the Panthers first score courtesy of Matt Ryan. On second and 12, Ryan threw left towards Harry Douglas only to find Melvin White in his place. After making the interception, the rookie cornerback stumbled and fell to the ground. Rather than wasting time trying to get to his feet, White simply crawled across the goal line for the touchdown.
The pick couldn’t have come at a better time. “They were playing with a lot of emotion as I said earlier and we had to match their emotion somehow, had to have a play and Melvin White made a great play for us,” said Carolina Head Coach Ron Rivera.
Carolina added another touchdown on a three yard pass from Newton to Ted Ginn, Jr. to close out the half ahead 14-10.
During halftime, the fans, the team, and the NFL honored the 17 year career of Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. Team owner Arthur Blank presented Gonzalez with a half Kansas City Chief-half Atlanta Falcons helmet signed by League Commissioner Roger Goodell.
After the halftime ceremonies were complete, the Falcons road the emotion down the field to take the lead on their first offensive series of the second half. The offensive line finally gave Ryan enough time to stay upright- 4 sacks in the first half- and the six-year pro made the Panthers secondary pay. Ryan threw a perfect pass to Roddy White for a 39 yard touchdown and a 17-14 lead.
Atlanta’s lead lasted all of five minutes. Aided by an unnecessary roughness penalty, Carolina moved steadily down the field. Upon reaching the last third of the field, Williams popped another big run. This time Williams held on to the ball when Alford swooped in to make the tackle at the 8. Three plays later Newton threw a dart into the belly of tight end Greg Olsen.
The Panthers watched their lead shrink from four to one on a 37 yard field goal by Matt Bryant.
Unable to move the ball beyond one first down, Carolina returned the ball to Ryan and the Falcons with over three minutes remaining. Normally three minutes would have been plenty of time for the Falcons to run out the clock and kick a game winning field goal.
The Panthers defense would have nothing of the sort. Through 80 percent of the game Ryan had paid the painful price of playing quarterback in the NFL. Greg Hardy and company had already sacked Ryan 7 times. In what could have been a game winning drive, the Panthers sacked him twice more to force a three-and-out to end the drive.
All hope wasn’t lost as the Falcons defense stood tall shutting down the Panthers and giving the ball back to their offense with almost a minute and a half remaining and at least 50 yards from field goal range.
A pair of passes to both White and Douglas and Ryan once again had the Falcons close to a game winning opportunity. With 31 seconds remaining and still about 15-20 yards shy of field goal range, the last wheel fell off the Falcons wobbly cart. As Ryan called out potential blitz-ers, center Joe Hawley snapped the ball to the spot where his quarterback had just left from. Running back Jason Snelling recovered the fumble but the damage was done.
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