Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy said that they were better than the Falcons despite the difference in records. That not maybe entirely true, but the Panthers were the better team when the two teams got together at Bank of American Stadium on Sunday as they took down the Falcons 30-20.
The Panthers were able to jump to a 16-0 lead thanks to some big plays by Cam Newton and a Panthers defensive line that came after Matt Ryan constantly.
The Panthers started the game with an 11-play, 77-yard drive and ended the series with a Newton 25-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen. After that the Panthers kicked three field goals on their next three possessions to give them the two-score lead going into halftime. The Falcons only had the ball three times in the first half and were force to punt each time they had possession. Of those three possessions they tallied 13 plays for 35 yards.
The Panthers picked up where they left off early in the third quarter. After forcing the Falcons to punt on their opening possession of the second half, Newton scored from 72 yards out to make it 23-0.
But the Falcons would fight back as they would score 13 unanswered points midway through the third and early in the fourth quarter. Their first score would come on a 13-play, 84-yard drive which ended with a Ryan 4-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White. The second score would come on an 11-play, 80-yard drive and that ended with a Ryan 11-yard touchdown pass to Juilo Jones. The Falcons would go for two to make it a one possession game, but White bobbled a Ryan pass in the end zone and the Falcons were down by 10 instead of eight.
The Falcons did get the ball back with 9:17 left in the game and move the ball to midfield after starting at their own 10 yard line. But Ryan was sacked by Hardy on second down and that led to Ryan throwing a pick to Thomas Davis two plays later.
That gave the Panthers an opportunity to ice the game and they did just that as Newton threw a screen pass to DeAngelo Williams and scored from 53 yards out. The Falcons would put one more score with less than a minute left as Michael Turner scored from a yard out giving him his eighth touchdown of the year.
The reason the Panthers won is they beat the Falcons at their own game. Carolina was 9 of 15 on third down conversions, possessed the ball for 35 minutes and did not have a turnover. The Falcons only converted two of eight third-down attempts, had possession for only 25 minutes and gave up 475 yards on defense.
Carolina improved to 4-9 but they are already eliminated from playoff contention. With a new general manager set to be hired in the near future, the future of the Panthers in terms of personnel is uncertain. So they played like a team that were fighting for their jobs.
The Falcons dropped to 11-2 but still have a 1.5 game lead for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. However, they need to win the next two of three games on order to ensure themselves home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
They will look to get back on track next Sunday when they face the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants at the Georgia Dome.