Led by a dominant defensive display, the Falcons claimed top spot in the NFC South and No 4 seed spot despite a losing 7-8-1 record over the season.
It was the variety of Carolina’s running game that had Atlanta on the back foot in the early stages, with quarterback Cam Newton evading pressure with his trademark dexterity and scrambling for good yards.
Serene progress on their first drive was only held up in redzone, but after taking the field goal, they moved 10-0 clear courtesy of Ed Dickson’s backpeddling catch and fall into the endzone.
The Falcons were given good field position by Devin Hester’s superb kick-return following that touchdown, but could not take full advantage – Patrick DiMarco missing an open catch in the flat that would have been a certain score.
The Panthers defensive line took that as inspiration to pile the pressure on Matt Ryan in the second quarter and the game was effectively won in two-and-a-half minutes as the protection around the Falcons QB began to implode.??
After producing a couple of brilliant completions under pressure, Ryan was finally sacked, forcing him to throw deep on the next play. With more Panthers in his face, he overthrew though and Roman Harper collected well before racing down the sideline for six more.
Two minutes later and a textbook play-action route was ruined when Thomas Brown fumbled away Ryan’s pass, allowing Thomas Davis to recover and return the ball back inside the Falcons five-yard line.??
That prompted Newton to power over behind some superb blocking from Andrew Norwell as the Panthers reached half-time 24-3 to the good.
And there was no change in the second-half as the Falcons continued to wilt under the smothering of the Panthers’ defence.??
With Ryan desperate to find some timing, he hit Roddy White with successive passes to move the chains, but consecutive penalties moved them backwards again and faced with a fourth and long, Ryan’s looped pass was picked off by Tre Boston, who ran it back for 84 yards to end the game as a contest midway through the third quarter.??