The Atlanta Falcons channeled a young Muhammad Ali and shook up the football world knocking off the previously unbeaten Carolina Panthers 20-13 at the Georgia Dome Sunday afternoon.
While not quite a World Championship, to put an end to their conference rivals 18-game winning streak and help their own cause for making the playoffs was celebrated by the entire locker room. “We’re still alive with a chance, and we wanted to make sure that we gave ourselves that opportunity’” said quarterback Matt Ryan. “But even more so to come out and play like we’re capable of when we haven’t done that at different times of the year that felt really good.”
The St. Louis Rams helped the Falcons cause by snagging a road win over the Seattle Seahawks. Minnesota needs only one win in their final two games to grab one of the wild card berths. A Falcons win coupled with a Seahawks loss in the final week of the season will send Atlanta on the road as the sixth seed.
Carolina picked up where it left off two weeks ago, covering 80-yards in 11 plays on the first offensive series of the game. Panthers quarterback, Cam Newton, dashed 8 yards over the right side for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. After scoring, Newton performed an extended celebration routine that included rocking the ball in his arms like a baby, the dab motion, handing the ball to a Panthers fan, and a coordinated leaping jump shot-high five thingy with a teammate.
The celebration didn’t sit well with the Falcons. “I didn’t like that, but that’s what they are as a team,” said wide receiver Roddy White. “They have guys parading around back-and-forth and jumping around, but we tend to save stuff like that for after the game.
Unlike the first meeting, Atlanta answered the bell. The Falcons overcame a bad snap on first down to drive the length of the field for a score on the ensuing drive. Atlanta used a balanced attack (9 runs, 7 passes) to keep the league’s fourth-ranked defense off balance. Inside the red zone, the Falcons needed only four downs to even the score. Ryan’s 7-yard scramble to the 4 set up Devonta Freeman’s scamper into the end zone and an obligatory display mocking Newton’s touchdown celebration.
Atlanta’s balanced attack (30 pass plays, 30 run plays) kept the Panthers offense on the sideline and points piling up on the scoreboard. Ryan finished the game with 306 yards and 1 touchdown on 23 of 30 passing. Freeman carried the bulk of the load (22) and finished with 73 yards.
The tie at the half didn’t last long into the third. Carolina managed to get inside the Atlanta 20 but no further. Rookie Vic Beasley came up with three consecutive plays to force the Panthers to settle for a 33-yard field goal from Graham Gano.
Beasley and the rest of the Falcons defensive line chased, sacked, and genuinely made the pocket uncomfortable for Newton all day. “We’ve been pressuring quarterbacks a lot this year but we were able to finish on him a couple times today,” said Beasley. Newton was sacked twice, hurried three times, and completed only 17 of his passes for 142 yards and no touchdowns.