The Atlanta Falcons moved a step closer to the playoffs with a convincing 33-16 win over the Carolina Panthers on Christmas Eve. Matt Ryan continued to throw his name in the MVP conversation, throwing 2 TDs and 277 yards with zero turnovers on the day.
Falcons Come Out Firing
The Falcons got off to a hot start with Matt Ryan going 5 for 5 through the air for 59 yards and capping off the drive with a touchdown to Joshua Perkins, who rose up between double coverage to snag his first career touchdown.
The Panthers on the other hand, started in the worst possible way. Cam Newton was picked off by Brian Poole midway through the first quarter to give the Falcons excellent field position. Atlanta would capitalize on the turnover with Pro Bowler Matt Bryant drilling a 51-yard field goal to push the lead to 10-0.
Another solid defensive showing would get Atlanta the ball back before the end of the first quarter and Bryant showed his talents again but hitting a 41-yard field goal to make it 13-0, wrapping up a dominant first quarter.
The Panthers start to the 2nd quarter looked good after two plays before the drive died out and resulted in Carolina settling for a field goal from 31 yards out, which Graham Gano would hit. The Falcons responded immediately and Mohamed Sanu’s two big catches on a 75-yard drive set up Ryan finding tight end DJ Tialavea for a touchdown. Tialavea made his NFL debut today after being called up from the practice squad and his first catch in the league went for six points.
Ryan’s 34th touchdown of the season was caught by Tialavea, the 13th receiver to catch a touchdown for the Falcons this season, setting a new NFL record.
Carolina looked to drive and get points on the board with over a minute left in the first half but a poor throw from Cam Newton was intercepted by Jalen Collins and returned it into Panthers’ territory. Atlanta would attempt a field goal but it was blocked to keep the score at 20-3 at halftime.
Carolina Look to Respond, Fall Short
The third quarter lacked offense for the most part, with both teams kicking field goals to make it 23-6, before Newton found Kelvin Benjamin in the back of the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown.
Carolina looked to be gaining momentum as the fourth quarter began and had Atlanta pinned back on a 3rd and 21 inside their own 15-yard line but a big first down catch by Tevin Coleman was followed up on the next play with Coleman slicing through Carolina’s defense for a 55-yard touchdown. A huge momentum swing to start the fourth as Atlanta took a 30-13 lead.
The Panthers continued to fight and Newton led his team on an 11-play drive that took them into the red zone but the offense stalled and they could only settle for Gano’s 31-yard field goal to make it 30-16. Atlanta would wrap things up at the two minute warning with a 50-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.
A great day for Atlanta who move to 10-5 on the season and a step closer to their first NFC South title since 2012. The loss leaves Carolina destined for a losing record and officially eliminates them from playoff contention.