Minutes after Atlanta beat rival Carolina 25-17 in Charlotte on "Thursday Night Football," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was asked about finally winning a close game this season.
"It just felt like it was going to be a different night," Ryan said before adding, "I hope it's the start of something."
It certainly was a different night for these Falcons, who improved to 2-6, and it could very well be the start of something. That will depend on the much-maligned Falcons defense.
The Falcons have won just two games so far this season – a 40-23 romp over the Vikings on Oct. 18 and Thursday night's eight-point victory over the Panthers. Both wins have something in common and have taught me a little something about this team: When the defense shows up, good things happen.
Good things, as in winning football.
When the Panthers started their final possession of the game – from their own 5-yard line with 2:58 left on the game clock – Falcons fans everywhere watching the game had to be thinking one thing: Here we go again. Actually, those thoughts may have started even sooner when kicker Younghoe Koo missed an extra point attempt that would have made it a two-score game.
Either way, the Panthers had the ball at the end of the game with plenty of time (and three timeouts) to go down the field and force overtime. It was the fourth game this season where the Falcons had a 98 percent win probability in the final minutes. We all know what happened in the previous three. Not great, Bob.
Nine plays into the drive, the Panthers found themselves facing a third-and-6 on the Falcons 30 with 1:04 to go.
Some Falcons fans probably saw that number and had terrible flashbacks from four days earlier. That's how much time remained in the game when Matthew Stafford and the Lions started their final – and game-winning – drive.
But as Ryan said, things just felt like they were going to be different on this night. And they were.
Enter the Falcons defense.
Instead of wilting under pressure or making a costly mistake with the game on the line, Atlanta's defense played to win rather than playing not to lose. And with 1:04 left to go, Falcons cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson picked off Teddy Bridgewater's pass intended for D.J. Moore at the Falcons' 9-yard line and returned it 3 yards.
Ryan and the Falcons offense came out and also did something they probaby wished they had done four days earlier: they took a knee on consecutive plays and ran out the clock.
Game over. Falcons win.
Bridgewater, who passed for 313 yards and two touchdowns in the Panthers win 18 days earlier, completed 15 of 23 passes for only 176 yards. The Falcons defense hit and harassed him all night long. By game's end, they had hit Bridgewater six times and sacked him three times.
Tha Panthers only converted two of 10 third-down attempts and were one of three on fourth down. The Falcons may have only forced the one turnover, but it sealed the win.
As well as the Falcons offense played, the defense came out aggressive and physical – and really set the tone. It wasn't the most dominating performance but they consistently good enough throughout the night.
When was the last time we said anything like that about this unit? Well, I can tell you. It was in Week 6 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
The Falcons defense forced three first-half interceptions, allowed Minnesota to convert only three of 10 third-down attempts, sacked Kirk Cousins once and were credited with eight quarterback hits. Like on Thursday, the defense stayed locked in and aggressive – and they were the story of the game.
Again, when the Falcons defense shows up, good things have happened for this team. When they've folded late in very winnable games, the Falcons have lost.
And as much as I hate to pick scabs and rehash things that are painful, the truth is that the Falcons should have beaten the Cowboys, Bears and Lions and be sitting at 5-3 right now, not 2-6.
But here we are with the Broncos up next before the Falcons head into their bye week on Nov. 15. Coming out the bye, Atlanta's schedule is brutal, too, with two games against the Saints, two against the Buccaneers, and matchups against the Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs in between.
As difficult as that slate appears to be right now, we do know this much. The Falcons, with all the weapons and proven commodities they have on offense, will only have a chance at winning more games if the defense shows up.
Maybe, like Ryan said, this can be the start of something.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers with top photos from Week 8.