Here are the grades from Atlanta's 25-17 road win over the Carolina Panthers Thursday night:
Brian Hill actually led the Falcons in rushing with 55 yards while Todd Gurley II was second with 46 yards. Both backs ran well, getting key first downs when the team needed them. The Falcons ran well in the driving rain, while Carolina defenders slipped almost all night. Gurley and quarterback Matt Ryan had rushing touchdowns for Atlanta Thursday (how often will THAT happen?) This unit would've gotten a higher grade if Gurley didn't melt down again, running out of bounds on third down with 3:00 left in the fourth quarter.
Ryan completed his first four passes en route to an efficient passing night, throwing for 281 yards. Julio Jones was his main target, catching seven passes for 137 yards. Calvin Ridley was on his way to a possible 100-yard game before sitting out the second half with an ankle injury. Atlanta made several passes for first downs to keep drives alive. The only blemish was Ryan's interception, which led to a touchdown for Carolina.
The Falcons were very good against the run Thursday, getting several tackles for loss. Foye Oluokun continued his stellar play at linebacker, making big hits which included a fourth-down stop on Panthers running back Mike Davis (along with Grady Jarrett) and a nice tackle for loss on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The Falcons blitzed quite a bit, especially in the second half when Carolina tried to get back in the game, and it worked for the road team. They did allow another rushing touchdown to wide receiver Curtis Samuel and were burned for 28 yards on a fake punt. But the fake punt was more on the special teams than the run defense.
Atlanta finished with three sacks, and linebacker Deion Jones was constantly in the Carolina backfield. Cornerbacks A.J. Terrell and Isaiah Oliver made huge third-down stops to thwart drives and contributed to a great game by the Falcons' secondary. The downtrodden unit held explosive Panthers wideout D.J. Moore to only 55 yards receiving and Blidi Wreh-Wilson came in for an injured Kendall Sheffield and made big plays.
Wreh-Wilson had a key third-down stop to force a Carolina punt and he made the biggest play of the night, picking off Bridgewater with :57 left in the fourth to seal the deal. Atlanta held Bridgewater to only 176 yards passing, ending the streak of opposing quarterbacks throwing for 300+ yards against the Falcons.
Great move by Raheem Morris to call for an early field goal instead of going for a fourth-down try. The Falcons would end up needing all their points Thursday. The blitz calls were timely as the coaching staff saw that the Panthers were having trouble handling Atlanta's defensive pressure. The staff also did a good job getting other receivers involved in the passing game once Ridley was out.
The Falcons played well against their NFC South rivals, avenging their earlier loss to the Panthers. Atlanta was smart to play in the proper cleats while Carolina slipped and stumbled in the rain for most of the night. The offense made enough plays and this time, the defense was able to hold on to a one-score lead, thanks to the Atlanta secondary. Special teams again helped out, as Younghoe Koo made four field goals Thursday for the second time in three weeks.