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'This one stings': Falcons re-live Carolina rain game woes in 9-7 loss to Panthers

A virtual must-win game turned loss for the Falcons deals out memories of the past. 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The rain came down as Marcus Mariota rolled out to his right, under duress on a third-down play at Bank of America Stadium in Nov. 2022. On the same field, in the same wet and windy conditions just a year later, Desmond Ridder nearly mirrored Mariota's movements in Dec. 2023, rolling out to his left on a second-down play. He, too, was under duress.

Mariota was tripped up as he scrambled. Falling to his side, he slung the ball down field as he fell. It was picked off, but the interception was called back. Mariota was ruled down before he threw it.

"I was playing a little bit outside of myself," Mariota said after that 2022 loss. "(I) tried to make a play too many times and it hurt our team."

One year and one month later, Ridder was tripped as he scrambled. Falling forward, he regained his footing, only to toss a line drive into the waiting arms of a Panthers' defensive back. The interception stood, marking the second turnover in as many drives for Atlanta in a game they lost 9-7.

"I was trying to make a play," Ridder said after the 2023 loss, "and I tried to do too much."

The moments were eerily similar as rain and wind pelted the helmets of the players on the field. The Falcons -- in all white -- against the Panthers -- in all black. The Falcons -- having a win over the Panthers under their belt already -- facing the Panthers -- who were in the midst of muddled play and coaching conversations and changes. The Falcons -- with a chance to remain atop the NFC South -- had the Panthers in their way.

The parallels from one year to the next can't be overlooked but, at the same time, this isn't last year. Maybe that's why this win "hurts" more.

The Panthers were 1-12 going into this Week 15 game. Though the Falcons had lost their Week 14 game to the Bucs, they were still in a three-way tie for the divisional lead. Hope was not lost. Not yet. Not if they did what they were supposed to do. Not if they beat the Panthers.

They didn't, and what was left in the wake of a low-scoring loss was unrealized expectations and a quarterback discussion. Not unlike what was left in the wake of last year's Nov. 10 loss to the Panthers in the pouring rain.

"We didn't do what we needed to do going in there," head coach Arthur Smith said after Sunday's game. "It wasn't for lack of effort. We didn't make enough plays. … They hung around and we turned the ball over late. When you do that, you lose. This one stings.

"And (it's) not the result we expected."

Inside linebacker Kaden Elliss wasn't around for last year's rain-soaked contest. Given the implications of this loss to a one-win Carolina team, though, he feels the sting all the same.

"The expectation was to win," Elliss said. "The belief was to win. ... We talked about it like a playoff game. So, that stings, and that hurts. It's something that's going to sting and it's going to hurt, but we have to find a way to stay together."

There's frustration in the loss, offensive lineman Jake Matthews said. It's frustration that stems from the fact the Falcons have had their chances to win more games than they have. And yet, they're 6-8.

"We have to find a way to finish, to seal the deal at the end of games, because we're in position (to win) most of the time," Matthews said.

Going into the game, the Falcons knew what the conditions would be. They knew it would be a slog. They figured the majority of their total yards would come on the ground. So, the 7-3 halftime score wasn't the end of the world. They had an entire half left. The run game would get going and the yards would come. They didn't, though.

And the fact the Falcons had three drives in the second half with two of them ending in turnovers that allowed Carolina to win without ever reaching the end zone? That fact was the final blow of the game for Atlanta.

So, where do the Falcons go from here? It's up to them.

"I believe in this group. I believe in these men, these coaches, these players, everybody who is a part of the organization, but this stings," Elliss said. This sucks."

And for the second time in just as many years, the Falcons leave Bank of America Stadium sopping wet and on the receiving end of a loss they desperately needed to win.

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers during Week 15.

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