CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Falcons hadn't forgotten about their week seven loss against the Panthers, heading into Sunday's rematch.
The Panthers rushed for 203 yards on the ground in their week seven-win, but it was not just the amount yards that frustrated the defense; it was the way the Panthers gained them. Quarterback Sam Darnold had 66 of those yards, many of which came on late down big chunk scrambles for first downs.
"We took it personal," Walker said. "Coach kind of let us know, [he] kind of called us out last game. ...It's personal, you know? You let them come in and run all over. You gotta fight back."
And with Darnold on Injured Reserve and one of the most talented running quarterbacks in NFL history, Cam Newton now the Panthers starting quarterback, the Falcons defense knew they would need to buckle down not to have a repeat of week seven.
"[stopping the run] was a big emphasis going in," Aj Terrell said. "Knowing they had a couple changes at the quarterback position and with the coordinator, so just an emphasis going into the week knowing we had to stop the run."
The Falcons defense responded on Sunday, allowing just 91 yards on the ground, and forced three turnovers in the 29-21 win over the Panthers.
Mykal Walker got things going for the Falcons' energized defense in the second quarter.
With just under nine minutes remaining, Walker picked off Newton and returned the ball 60-yards for a touchdown, both firsts in his in his his NFL career.
The pick came just five days after Walker's first child, Kayden, was born. Walker did a rock the baby celebration gesture as a nod to his son. Not only was Walker excited about the pick and wanted to celebrate for his son, but Newton was Walker's favorite player growing up.
Last season he was disappointed that the Panthers released Newton and that he would not have a chance to match up with one of his childhood idols. Catching the interception meant the world to him.
"Cam Newton is my favorite player ever," Walker said. "It's insane my first interception; my baby was born a couple of days ago; I'm on cloud nine right now."
"That was a blessing from God," Terrell added. "It's definitely big. I went right up to him and told him that's for his baby boy. Just a blessing, not only a pick but a pick-six straight walk-in. I told him to take care of that ball, don't let nobody do nothing with it."
Walker's pick-six was the second straight for the Falcons' defense. Marlon Davidson got an interception-touchdown against the Buccaneers last week. Walker says that he expects plays like those from the defense every week and gives them confidence.
"[Turnovers] are huge," Walker said. "We believe in ourselves. It's something we talk about. We can make big plays, we always talk about big plays coming in bunches, and we were able to come out here and make some plays."
Seven minutes later, Terrell joined the party.
Terrell leaped in front of Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson and caught a pass that was lobbed in the air by backup quarterback PJ Walker. Walker was sent into the game after the Panthers three and out following the Walker interception.
"It was like a lollipop pass, and I made a play on it," Terrell said with a smile.
After allowing 43 points to the Cowboys four weeks ago, the Falcons defense has turned a proverbial corner, forcing a turnover in each game.
"It's just Growth [and] ownership," Terrell said on the defensive turnaround. "Owning up to everything that we've done wrong, not laying our heads on it and just coming in each day in the meetings and trying to attack the days [and] trying to win day."
Still, Grady Jarrett, who recovered a fumble in the win, knows there is much room for improvement.
"I feel like we could've done better," Jarrett said, "[but] we did what we had to do to win the game and respond, and we got a win."
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