The Atlanta Falcons (0-5) dropped their first division game of the season and remain winless after losing to the Carolina Panthers (3-2) 23-16 on Sunday afternoon.
Atlanta was in great position to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter, driving down to the Carolina 5-yard line before quarterback Matt Ryan threw an interception in the back of the end zone. The Panthers responded after the interception, marching 76 yards and setting up a short field goal for kicker Joey Slye to make it a two-score game and a 23-13 lead for Carolina, which took precious minutes off the clock on the drive.
"Just getting done with the team, what I discussed with them, certainly a tough division loss, but at the end of the day, players and coaches, you've got to be able to leave your mark on the game," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "That's the -- the big tackle, the big hit that caused the fumble, the big score, the big kick. So that's what we've got to be able to do."
The loss comes on a day when Todd Gurley had his best game as a member of the Falcons. Looking much like the All-Pro he was with the Rams, Gurley had chunk play after chunk play on the ground, highlighted by a 35-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that made him the fourth-fastest player to reach 75 career touchdowns. Gurley finished his afternoon with 14 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown, he also caught four passes for 29 yards.
"Those guys up front did a hell of a job," Gurley said. "Hats off to them. Tight ends, Keith [Smith], and receivers blocking down field. Credit to everyone being aggressive. I did not really have to do much but run. Those guys created space for me."
Defensively, Atlanta had difficulty bringing down Carolina's ballcarriers, particularly running back Mike Davis, who finished with a career-best 149 total yards and a touchdown. The Panthers also made it a priority to get the ball to wide receiver Robby Anderson early and often; he finished the game with eight catches for 112 yards. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was very sharp on Sunday, completing 27 of his 37 pass attempts for 313 yards and two touchdown passes with no interceptions, earning him a 116.2 passer rating. Receiver D.J. Moore also made a big play for the Panthers, a 57-yard catch-and-run touchdown in which he outran the Falcons defense.
Ryan finished the game 21-of-37 for 226 yards with no touchdowns and the interception. As has often been the case this season, his top target of the afternoon was Calvin Ridley, who caught eight passes for 136 yards. Without Julio Jones for the game, the Falcons couldn't find much room to throw the ball against the Panthers' zone defense, and Carolina often dropped eight players into coverage to provide even less openings downfield.
"Their defensive style is to keep things in front," Ryan said. "They drop eight people in pass coverage more than anybody else in the NFL. We knew coming into it, it was about staying patient and not trying to force things into tough coverage because they do a good job of really keeping things in front."
The Falcons gained 369 yards of offense against the Panthers, but the were 0-for-2 in the red zone, coming away with just three points on those trips. Ryan was sacked twice on Sunday, including one that resulted in a fumble and a big loss of yardage that stalled a drive. Atlanta allowed 437 yards against Carolina, including 124 yards on the ground.
Next up for Atlanta is a trip to Minnesota for a matchup against the 1-3 Vikings, who face the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers with top photos from inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 5.