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Panthers force pair of turnovers, grab momentum from Falcons at end of the first half


CHARLOTTE -- After a pair of big plays from Devonta Freeman and Austin Hooper, the Falcons' offense looked well on their way towards adding to their lead as the second quarter wound down.


Needing only one yard for a fresh set of downs, Atlanta's run game was denied twice by Carolina on third and fourth down, stalling a promising drive. To make matters worse, Hooper was called for an illegal crack-back block on the play. Because the penalty was a personal foul, it was tacked on after the turnover on downs, moving the ball 15 yards and giving the Panthers' offense possession at midfield instead of their own 35-yard line.

The penalty helped provide a spark to Carolina's offense, which had been held in check for much of the first half. Cam Newton led the unit 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 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.

With the ball once again, 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 and jolted life into the crowd at Bank of America Stadium. Also worth noting: the Panthers received the ball to open the third quarter.

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