CHARLOTTE – The Falcons, playing in their first divisional game of the season, appeared to have all the momentum early on against the rival Panthers. But their lead and momentum was short-lived as Carolina rallied back for a 20-17 win.
Atlanta jumped out to a 10-0 in the first quarter when Matt Ryan hit Mohamed Sanu in stride for an easy 6-yard touchdown. The Falcons cashed in on Keanu Neal's forced fumble and recovery (more on that later).
But then the second quarter happened, and the Panthers seized the momentum back by forcing a pair of turnovers and ultimately scoring 20 unanswered points.
Tevin Coleman stopped the bleeding late in the fourth quarter when he scored on a 19-yard catch-and-run to make it 20-17, but that was as close as Atlanta would get.
Earlier in the fourth with 8:20 left in the game, the Falcons opted to go for it on fourth-and-7. It appeared to be a brilliant call as Ryan found Julio Jones wide open in the end zone but the Falcons' All-Pro receiver couldn't reel it in.
It was the first time Jones dropped a pass in the end zone since 2012.
Falcons come up short in short-yardage situations
Atlanta converted just 33 percent (4-of-12) of its third-down opportunities against Carolina. More troublesome, was the Falcons' struggles in short-yardage situations.
Seven times the Falcons needed just one yard to pick up a fresh set of downs. On those opportunities, Atlanta was stopped for no gain four times and had one sack for a loss of 5 yards. Only two of the seven and-1 chances resulted in positive yards for Atlanta, and the aggregate yardage total in those situations added up to zero yards.
Possibly the most impactful of those series came near the end of the second quarter. Holding a 10-0 lead, the Falcons twice ran the ball on third- and fourth-and-1. Twice they were stopped for no gain. The short-yardage stop by Carolina helped flip the momentum of the game and sparked a 14-point run for the Panthers heading into halftime. For more on the Falcons' short-yardage struggles, click here.
Falcons cash in early on turnover
On Carolina's second possession, running back Jonathan Stewart broke through a hole for what looked to be a 9-yard gain. Falcons defenders swarmed to the Panthers' running back and safety Keanu Neal ripped the ball free from Stewart's hands. After the forced fumble, Neal's first of the year, the Falcons' offense took over with the ball at the 39-yard and a three-point lead.
Atlanta's offense did not waste the gift the defense provided. Matt Ryan helped engineer an 8-play, 61-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu, giving the Falcons a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. For more on the play, click here.
Panthers seize momentum by forcing turnovers
Atlanta's run game was denied twice in the second quarter by Carolina on third and fourth down, stalling a promising drive. Cam Newton then led the Panthers offense 50 yards in six plays, scoring on a 4-yard pitch to rookie running back Christian McCaffrey.
Although the Panthers had scored for the first time in the game, the Falcons regained possession with just under two minutes left in the half and seeking to add to their lead. A big 26-yard pass to Julio Jones on the first play of the drive moved the ball near midfield.
On the following play, there appeared to be a miscommunication between Austin Hooper and Matt Ryan, which resulted in an interception, the first turnover of the day for Atlanta. Safety Mike Adams returned the pick 30 yards.
The Panthers wasted no time in moving into scoring position. Newton dove over linebacker Deion Jones to stick the ball over the goal line for a touchdown just before it was jarred loose by cornerback Desmond Trufant. The score capped a quick, four-play, 31-yard drive for Carolina, which gave the Panthers a 14-10 lead heading into halftime. For more on the momentum-changing series of plays, click here.
What the loss means for the Falcons
With the loss to the Panthers, Atlanta falls to 4-4 on the season and 0-1 in the NFC South. The Falcons still have five more divisional games. Carolina improves to 6-3 and 2-1 in the division.
What's next for the Falcons
Atlanta will host the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. A 4:30 p.m. ET kickoff is scheduled. The Cowboys entered Sunday's home game against the Kansas City Chiefs with a 4-3 record.
Recap Sunday's game with our in-game blog
We provided live updates and analysis during Sunday's division clash, as well as highlights, stats and additional insights. You can recap all the action below.