The Atlanta Falcons actually made big defensive plays in the fourth quarter en route to a 25-17 win over the Carolina Panthers Thursday night in an NFC South contest at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
With the Panthers trailing 25-17 with 2:58 remaining in the final stanza, Atlanta pressured Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater into throwing an interception to cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson with :57 left.
The Falcons were able to take a knee, run out the clock and get the win to improve to 2-6 overall (1-1 NFC South) and prove - at least for a week - that they could hold on to a late lead. Carolina falls to 3-5 overall and 1-3 in the NFC South.
The game started off well for the visitors on a soggy field due to rain from Hurricane Zeta. Quarterback Matt Ryan completed his first two passes to Julio Jones, then one to tight end Hayden Hurst to put the Falcons in Carolina territory. After Todd Gurley II was stopped on third down, the Falcons looked to go for it on fourth down. But interim head coach Raheem Morris called a timeout and thought better of it, electing to have Younghoe Koo boot a 20-yard field goal for the 3-0 lead.
Carolina wasn't fazed. The Panthers drove down the field and scored on a Curtis Samuel TD run to lead 7-3 with 8:14 left.
Ryan completed four more passes before he threw an incompletion. Ryan was soon sacked on third down, and the Falcons settled for a 37-yard Koo field goal to cut the lead to 7-6.
Carolina punted on the first play of the second quarter, but got the ball back quickly. Ryan threw an interception to Donte Jackson on the first play from scrimmage. The Panthers capitalized, getting a 29-yard flea-flicker TD pass from Bridgewater to Samuel to increase their lead to 14-6.
Ryan ran for a 13-yard touchdown later in the second to cut Carolina's lead to 14-13. After linebacker Foye Oluokun and the Atlanta run defense stopped Carolina on fourth-and-one, the road team got another Koo field goal to take a 16-14 halftime lead.
The Falcons' run defense again rose to the occasion in the third quarter as the rain intensified. The Panthers got the ball first and drove downfield. Carolina had a fourth-and-two and decided against a punt, which was a bad idea. Oluokun and Grady Jarrett stopped Panthers running back Mike Davis, giving the ball back to the Atlanta offense.
Atlanta wideout Calvin Ridley was out due to his second-quarter ankle injury, but the Falcons scored a few minutes later anyway as Koo booted his fourth field goal to give the Falcons a 19-14 lead with 6:36 left in the period.
Carolina again was stopped on third down but instead of a punt, the Panthers got a successful fake as safety Jeremy Chinn ran for 28 yards to keep the drive alive. The drive was boosted by an unnecessary roughness penalty on Atlanta defensive tackle Charles Harris, who hit Bridgewater in the neck/head area. Harris was ejected from the game.
Bridgewater was replaced by P.J. Walker and the drive ended with a Joey Slye 36-yard field goal to cut the Falcons' lead to 19-17.
Atlanta grounded out a long drive and got a three-yard touchdown run from Gurley as the fourth quarter began. Koo missed the extra point, however, which made it a one-possession game at 25-17 with 11:01 remaining.
Bridgewater checked back in the contest, but the Falcons stopped Carolina after the Panthers started strong and forced a punt. With 5:42 left, the Falcons got breaks from Carolina defensive penalties to keep their drive alive. The Falcons were held down by a staunch Panthers defense, however, and had to punt.
Carolina got the ball with 2:58 left and proceeded to drive down the field. The Atlanta defense - after getting torched - got two big plays to force a long third-down attempt. But Bridgewater made a nice throw to wideout D.J. Moore, who made a leaping catch for a 42-yard gain in Atlanta territory. But two plays later, Bridgewater was intercepted by Wreh-Wilson to seal the 25-17 win.
The Falcons will host the Denver Broncos on Nov. 8 at 1 p.m. EDT while Carolina will travel to play the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 8, also at 1 p.m. EDT.