ATLANTA -- The Falcons had won two straight games entering Sunday's game against Carolina. The Panthers had lost their last four.
Teams trending in opposite directions clashed on Halloween at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in an important NFC South matchup.
Those trends didn't continue, with the Panthers eventually securing a 19-13 victory.
This game hung in the balance entering the fourth quarter, marking the fifth straight time the Falcons have played a game like this.
The home team took an early lead, but generally stalled after that. The Panthers moved the ball consistently but had major trouble crossing the goal line.
That left last-period performance to settle this affair, and the Panthers made more plays when it mattered most.
Here are three gut reactions to what we saw here at Mercedes-Benz Stadium:
Matt Ryan, Falcons out of sync
The Falcons worked their way well into Panthers territory early in the fourth quarter with a touchdown on their minds. Matt Ryan lofted a quality pass down the left sideline for Kyle Pitts, but the rookie tight end couldn't hang on.
That brought up a fourth down, when Younghoe Koo missed wide right from 45 yards out.
That's two virtually automatic performers not converting on consecutive plays, summing up the Falcons Sunday at the office.
They rarely seemed in sync, with a few good plays followed by some head scratchers. If they weren't so tough as a red-zone defense, this game could've been lopsided. The Panthers kept kicking field goals and eventually took a lead on one. They established a two-score lead with their first touchdown of the game and the Falcons weren't able to recover.
They weren't solid throwing the football for most of the game. They played without Calvin Ridley, who was inactive due to a personal matter. Quarterback Matt Ryan's non-throwing hand got stepped on, which cause his hand to bleed during the second quarter. He threw an interception shortly after that happened, ending a promising drive. The Falcons weren't able to sustain drives and the Panthers were, leading to the ultimate outcome.
Ryan struggled in this one after several excellent games in a row. He threw two interceptions and had a subpar passer rating.
Rough day for Falcons run defense
The Carolina Panthers didn't have Christian McCaffrey available for Sunday's game, but it didn't slow their commitment to the run. Neither did an opening-snap fumble by Chuba Hubbard.
The Panthers kept on running, churning out steady yards that kept them on schedule. The Falcons ranked 16th against the run heading into this one, though they were a bit lower in yards per carry allowed.
The numbers weren't great, but the overall volume really hurt the Falcons as the game carried on. The Falcons defense was gassed by the end, a byproduct of way too much time on the field.
The Panthers offense was far from fearsome during four straight losses, but the run game kept them in it against the Falcons. While the NFL's a true week-to-week league, it's something to keep an eye on as the Falcons on as they play Alvin Kamara in New Orleans next time out.
There was too much room to run, both inside the tackles and on stretch runs. The Falcons ended up allowing 203 yards on 47 carries. As a result, Carolina had the ball for more than 35 minutes. Those numbers aren't good and need to be better in games down the line.
Home struggles continue
Head coach Arthur Smith said heading into this game that the Falcons needed to play better at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, to give the fans here in Atlanta a win to celebrate. That hasn't happened yet. They have lost three games played here -- they technically have a "home" win after beating the Jets in London -- and haven't looked good in two of those. Count Sunday's game in that tally.
They started off okay but were never able to establish a rhythm on offense or defense. The run defense struggled, sending the Panthers time of possession through the roof. The offense was disjointed, lacking steady production on the ground and through the air.
The Falcons go on a two-game road trip after this and will need to perform better in their home venue during the season's second half.
Call for questions
Let's fill up the mailbag with Sunday's outcome fresh in your mind. Submit your questions, comments and causes for concern/optimism right here, just in time for Monday's Bair Mail.
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