Carolina Panthers top draft choice, Cameron Newton, returned home only to be treated rudely by the Falcons. Three Falcons interceptions secured a 31-17 win interrupting a game that had a promising start for the former Westlake High School (Atlanta) star.
The last time Newton appeared in the Georgia Dome he came away with an SEC Championship and a date in the BCS Championship Game. Interceptions aside, his 21 for 35 passing for 237 yards and 50 yards rushing were more than a match for Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan’s numbers. Where Ryan was better read like computer language 0 picks 1 win.
Carolina jumped on the board first following a 13-play drive that resulted in an Olindo Mare 42-yard field goal. A field goal the Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera would have readily traded for the pass in the endzone that was dropped by tight end Greg Olsen. “Any time you get an opportunity to score you would much rather have the seven than the three,” said Rivera. “And it does take a little bit of wind out of you if you drive down and put yourself in a position you gotta put the touchdowns in.”
Atlanta did just that on their second possession. Michael Turner scored on an 1 yard run thanks in part to a pass interference penalty on Carolina defensive back Charles Godfrey #30. Godfrey was flagged for interfering with Roddy White in the endzone giving the Falcons the ball at the 1 yard line.
Nine plays later, Jonathan Stewart answered the challenge with a 1 yard touchdown of his own to give the Panthers a 10-7 lead. A lead that lasted just long enough to get the beer man’s attention but not long enough to take more than a few sips. By the fourth sip, Ryan’s 23 yard pass and go to Harry Douglas had the Falcons in the red zone once again. A second pass interference penalty, this time on Panthers defensive back Chris Gamble #20, gave the Falcons the ball at the 1 yard line for a second time. And for a second time, the Falcons came away with the touchdown. Ryan floated a pass to Ovie Mughelli in the endzone that the bruising fullback hauled in without a defender nearby.
Newton attempted to respond just before the close of the first half but Falcons defensive back Brent Grimes #20 picked off a tipped pass to the endzone intended for Steve Smith #89.
The interception halted a drive that should have netted at least a field goal. Had the Panthers been able to score before the half it would have made Newton’s touchdown to start the third quarter far more impactful. Instead, Newton’s dazzling 14 yard touchdown run gave the Panthers a 17-14 lead rather than a 20 or 24-14 lead.
Carolina’s missed opportunity allowed Matt Bryant’s 24 yard field goal to tie the score and Matt Ryan’s 1 yard dive to give the Falcons the lead for good. Atlanta added some insurance later on capitalizing on Corey Peters interception in Panthers territory. Michael Turner rushed for 27 yards, including the final 2, of the 39 yards the Falcons needed for the touchdown.
Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud #28 intercepted Newton on the rookie’s final drive as if to say “You’re welcome home anytime as long as you’re not playing against Atlanta”.
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