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Late-game defensive issues persist in loss to Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With the lead and a chance to seal a victory, the Falcons defense lined up against Carolina at the Panthers 5-yard line with 7 minutes, 35 seconds left to play in the fourth quarter. That unit wasn't able to get off the field and the Panthers kicked a game-winning field goal to beat Atlanta 9-7.

The Falcons have seen this film before. The ending has been common in the season's second half.

Late-game struggles have recently plagued a quality defensive squad that was ranked second in the NFL in red-zone defense heading into Sunday.

"I don't know how many times we got the lead within the two-minute warning and ended up giving it up," defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. "To be as talented as we are, we have to be better in those crucial moments."

Atlanta's last four losses have all ended like this. Whether with a field goal or a touchdown, **the Falcons defense has allowed the opposition to march down the field and take the win in late-game situations** time and again.

Like those other games, the defense did its job in the first three quarters. The Panthers didn't score a touchdown and recorded less than 200 total yards of offense heading into the fourth quarter. In the final 15 minutes, the Falcons allowed 91 yards — 68 passing and 23 rushing — most of it on that one go-ahead drive.

"We had opportunities to make plays, and we let some of them slip," cornerback A.J. Terrell said. "Those are things we can control."

On that final Panthers drive, the Falcons gave up three big pass completions of at least 18 yards. 

"We played a good game but not good enough to get the 'W,'" Terrell said. "That's where we go back to the drawing board and as a defense, as a team, (and) handle those situations differently."

There were elements that couldn't be solved, though, from a dreary, rain-soaked affair that limited both teams in all three phases.

Health continued to hurt the Falcons late into the season.

The Falcons got inside linebacker Nate Landman back on the field in Week 15, but outside linebacker Bud Dupree missed his first game this season with a back injury. Defensive lineman David Onyemata, who had been key for the Falcons front after losing Grady Jarrett, was held out for a second straight game with an ankle injury. Fellow defensive tackle Kentavius Street was placed on injured reserve on Saturday with a pectoral injury.

While the Falcons defense failed to close out the game, it wasn't all on that unit. Atlanta's offense turned the ball over twice in the second half, with a fumble at its own 24-yard line and an interception on the Carolina 5-yard line. If the Falcons don't give away a ball in the end zone, this might be a different story with a different ending.

Instead, the Falcons look to rebound after a disappointing loss.

"This one hurts," Campbell said. "I don't think anybody here thought we were gonna lose this ball game."

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

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