Falcons Preserve Late Lead, Top Panthers 19-17

FIRST QUARTER

The Atlanta Falcons began the game on offense, punting four plays later. The Carolina Panthers were five plays into their first offensive drive, when Falcons safety Kemal Ishmael grabbed his third interception of the season, picking off Panthers quarterback Cam Newton at the Atlanta 32-yard line.

The Falcons were unable to take advantage of the turnover, punting after their next three plays.  

Carolina's next offensive drive proved time-consuming and profitable. Newton led a 17-play drive that covered 83 yards, using 9:05 off the game clock, getting as far as the Falcons 5-yard line. Ishmael struck again, breaking up a pass, forcing a fourth down as the first quarter ended.

The Falcons suffered injuries in the first quarter, as cornerback Robert Alford (wrist) and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee) were forced out of the game, each with returns listed as questionable.

SECOND QUARTER

The Panthers opened the second quarter by capping off their second drive of the game with a 23-yard field goal by kicker Graham Gano.

The Falcons offense matched the Panthers in points on its opening drive of the quarter. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan directed a 13-play drive in 5:31, covering 64 yards, capped by Matt Bryant's 34-yard field goal.

The game remained tied 3-3 into the two-minute warning. When play resumed, the Panthers faced a 3rd-and-4 from their own 40-yard line, when Falcons rookie safety Dezmen Southward sacked Newton to force a punt.

With 1:35 to play in the second quarter, Ryan used all but two seconds off the game clock to help give his team the lead. "Matty Ice" completed seven passes, including two to Julio Jones, moving the ball to the Carolina 24-yard line. Bryant closed out the drive with a 42-yard field goal, claiming a 6-3 lead at halftime.

THIRD QUARTER

Three plays into Carolina's first offensive drive of the second half, Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant intercepted Newton, returning it 19 yards to the Panthers 14-yard line. Carolina kept the Falcons out of the end zone, leading to a 26-yard field goal by Bryant.

Leading 9-3, the Falcons defense forced a Carolina three-and-out, giving Ryan and the offense prime field position on the Atlanta 45-yard line. Eight plays and 55 yards later, including a 20-yard reception by Levine Toilolo, Ryan completed the drive, finding White for a 2-yard touchdown reception.

  • Falcons running back Antone Smith was forced out of the game in the third quarter, after suffering a knee injury.

FOURTH QUARTER

The game's score remained the same into the fourth quarter, before Newton and the Panthers narrowed the Falcons 16-3 lead. Carolina put together a five-play drive that covered 71 yards in 1:50, as Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin grabbed a 22-yard reception for the score.

Leading by six points, 16-10, the Falcons offense was forced to punt on its next drive. Carolina continued its offensive momentum, scoring in just two plays on the ensuing drive. Newton threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Philly Brown, giving the Panthers a 17-16 lead.

Carolina's lead didn't last long. Ryan and the offense moved down the field in historic fashion as White hauled in an 11-yard grab to surpass 10,000 career receiving yards. The drive later ended in three points, thanks to a 44-yard field goal by Bryant, giving the Falcons a 19-17 lead.

With less than two minutes to play in the game, the Panthers moved the ball to Atlanta's 28-yard line. Gano attempted a potential go-ahead 46-yard field goal and missed.

Atlanta was able to milk much of the game clock, before Carolina and Gano had one last chance, a 63-yard field goal attempt, blocked by Falcons rookie defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman, preserving the 19-17 win.

With the Cincinnati Bengals beating the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, the 4-6 Falcons are now sitting in first place in the NFC South.

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