The Atlanta Falcons stormed back from the dead on Sunday afternoon, trailing 23-7 in the second quarter but fighting back to beat their division-rival Carolina Panthers 31-23 in Charlotte. It was the Falcons’ second win over the Panthers this year and fourth in a row, dating back to the 2010 season.
The second-half comeback was something that reminds you of a turning point in the season, and Falcons fans can only hope that was the case today.
Atlanta took an early 7-0 lead when a 10-play drive culminated in a 4-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White. White had four catches in the drive, exposing the Panthers defense.
That was the last time the Falcons would score in the first half, as Carolina did adjust to White’s early success and stifled Atlanta’s offense the rest of the first 30 minutes. But the Panthers would score 23 unanswered points, aided greatly by a huge 74-yard touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams and a 44-yard TD pass from Cam Newton to tight end Greg Olsen. Those two scores both occurred in a span of 3:48, and it appeared the rout was on.
Atlanta looked doomed with no movement on offense and a defense that was giving up huge chunks of yards. The offense had 23 total yards in the second quarter, more proof that the Falcons’ playmakers weren’t making plays.
The second half was a different story. Matt Bryant hit a 30-yard field goal to start the scoring midway through the third quarter, and Ryan found running back Jacquizz Rodgers for a 31-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to just six points before the third quarter came to a close.
Newton then threw picks on consecutive possessions, giving the Falcons all the momentum heading into the final quarter. Atlanta’s offense was showing improvement and imagination, but they needed to find a spark in the passing game to keep the scoring going.
That’s when Falcons receiver Julio Jones took over.
With 12:42 left in the game, Ryan hit Jones on a 17-yard touchdown pass, barely breaking the plane of the goal line when Jones stretched the ball as far as he could. For the first time since the 0:03 mark in the first quarter, the Falcons had the lead.
But Newton led his offense down the field with timely passes and a few good runs, setting up a 36-yard field goal for Olindo Mare. But the usually-reliable kicker pulled the kick to the left, preserving the lead for the Falcons.
Fifty-five seconds later, Ryan found Jones again, this time in the middle of the field, and Jones broke a few tackles and sprung free for a 75-yard touchdown. The 31-23 score would eventually be the final score, and the Falcons improved to 8-5 on the season.
This keeps Atlanta in the top six of the NFC standings and the win also prevented the New Orleans Saints from clinching a division title. But most importantly, the Falcons showed immense heart in fighting back to get this win and proved that while they may not be the most talented team in the league, they have hope.
And following last week’s loss at Houston, hope is what the Falcons and their fans needed.