Since Matt Ryan and Mike Smith joined the Falcons in 2008, there have been some amazing finishes at the Georgia Dome. The 2008 game against Chicago and the 2010 game against Baltimore are a couple that come to mind.
But what happened at the Dome on Sunday could potentially be the most memorable as the Falcons squeak by Carolina 30-28 and improve to 4-0.
The Falcons were down 28-27 with 59 seconds to go and they had the ball at the 1-yard line. On the first play Ryan threw a 59-yard pass to Roddy White, then threw a 7-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez and completed a six yard pass to Harry Douglas. That set up a Matt Bryant 40-yard field goal and the Falcons took the lead with 10 seconds left.
“I just threw it high and far and to the spot where we talk about,” Ryan said talking about the 59-yard pass to White. “We practice that and Roddy went up and made a great catch. He just made a great play.”
White, who had 169 receiving yards and two touchdowns on the day, knew what to do on that play.
“Just track it at its highest point,” White said. “I just try to jump before [the defender] does and kind of get on top of him.”
This was a different game for the Falcons compared to their first three. The big reason for that is they trailed in this game, which is the first time that has happened this season.
It started early in the first quarter when the Falcons offense went three-and-out and that led to a 5-play, 53-yard drive for the Panthers as Cam Newton threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen. The Falcons would tie it up late in the first when Ryan threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to White.
“Those two catches were about as good as you’re going to see,” Smith said talking about White’s 49-yard touchdown catch and 59-yard fourth quarter catch. “The ability to adjust on the football when the ball is in the air, that’s why he’s been a Pro Bowl wide receiver the last four years.”
Falcons took the lead early in the second quarter when Matt Bryant kicked a 41-yard field goal. But the Panthers would answer on the ensuing drive when DeAngelo Williams scored on a 13-yard run.
The Falcons would take the lead before halftime when Ryan found White on a 17-yard touchdown pass. They would add on to that lead early in the third when Ryan threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Michael Turner.
That was a memorable play for Turner because that was his first touchdown reception of his career.
“We’ve been talking about it all year,” Turner said who had 171 all-purpose yards. “One of the coaches said he felt it. He said this is the year.”
Newton would not let Turner show him up as he scored on a 4-yard run on the ensuing drive. The Panthers would take the lead again when Newton threw a 36-yard screen pass to Kealoha Pilares for the score.
After another Bryant field goal and both teams exchanging punts, the Panthers looked to burn the clock with 2:26 left in the game. They had the ball at the Falcons 46-yard line on third-and-two, but they could not covert the first down because Newton fumbled on the QB sneak and recovered it at the Falcons 44-yard line.
“When there is a fumble you cannot advance a fumble forward in the last part of the ball game,” Smith said. “I thought the officials did a great job of going through the process and getting the spot right.”
The Panthers looked as if they were going to go for it on fourth-and-two, but after failing to draw the Falcons offside, the Panthers decided to punt.
“I was hoping that they would punt to us, and that’s the right thing to do in the situation,” Smith said. “They did what most any coach would do.”
This was by far the toughest win for the Falcons this season. But a win like this will likely pay dividends down the road.
“I think we will be a better team after this experience,” Sean Weatherspoon said who had four tackles and one sack in the win. “These types of wins give you a lot of confidence. We look forward to continuing this momentum against the Washington Redskins next week.”