CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Sunday's game against Carolina was massive for the Falcons. Head coach Arthur Smith made that perfectly clear during the practice week, a sentiment echoed by his players at every turn.
They simply had to have this one to stay in the mix, something Smith's crew was committed to after losing a crucial home game to Tampa Bay the week before.
The Falcons took a lead into the second half and the fourth quarter thanks to solid defense -- Mykal Walker had a pick six -- and Younghoe Koo's steady leg. it grew with Hayden Hurst's touchdown grab and was maintained down the stretch to secure a 29-21 victory here at Bank of America Stadium.
Let's take a look at three gut reactions from Sunday's action.
Stayin' alive, stayin' alive
The Falcons (6-7) remain on the fringes of the NFC playoff hunt, but they would've essentially/realistically been out of it with a loss here in Carolina. A victory keeps them in the mix, even if the odds of a postseason spot aren't great.
A ton's still required, including several more victories and some help from others across the conference, but the Falcons have a pulse.
It registers because they got the job done against the Panthers, a struggling team operating without several key assets. They did just enough to get by, with a complimentary effort that will be required as we move forward.
The Falcons will need more offensive production in coming weeks, with yards coming decently without a high points volume. This defense looks a bit better and special teams is in a good place with Koo and new punter Thomas Morstead.
Now they have to do what they haven't to this point -- win consistently. While we can dissect what went right and wrong in this one, but the end result is all that matters. The Falcons won. They're still playing meaningful football as we move through December. That's a positive for Smith's group down the home stretch.
Winning on the road isn't easy. There are so many adversarial variables, from the travel to the hostile crowd to the unfamiliar environment, that work against a visitor. The 2021 Falcons haven't been bothered much by that.
They have been awesome on the road this season, raising their record to 5-2 as the away team after Sunday's victory. If you count a "home" game played in London, the Falcons are 6-2 in games away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. While this is being framed as a compliment, it stands in stark contrast to an 0-5 mark in Atlanta, a problematic trend in its own right that must be remedied in remaining games against the Lions and Saints if the Falcons are to remain in the running for postseason play.
Defense taketh away possession, then giveth Falcons points
The Falcons is scoring points these days, not just preventing them. Dean Pees' unit recorded their second pick six in as many games.
Mykal Walker got one in the second quarter of this one, returning his first career interception 66 yards for a touchdown. Marlon Davidson did that to Tampa Bay the week prior, though he had a far shorter jaunt into the end zone.
Walker's gave the Falcons a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter, with a moment of glory in the same week his son was born. The proud papa made a great read, jumped a route and easily picked Cam Newton's pass. Foye Oluokun made a smart decision to hop in front of Newton, who was closest to Walker, and cut off his pursuit.
Having the defense contribute not only turnovers but points was key in this one, and is proof that the group is starting to understand and execute Pees' scheme better as the season has progressed.
Call for questions
Let's fill up the mailbag with your questions while this result against Carolina is fresh in your mind. Submit them right here for inclusion in Monday's edition of Bair Mail.
Falcons Final Whistle | A Postgame Podcast
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Welcome to Falcons Final Whistle – an Atlanta Falcons football postgame podcast during the season that shifts gears in the offseason to answer a pressing question about the team's future each week through free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason program.