The Falcons faced the Carolina Panthers for the last time in this regular-season finale. This was the 46th meeting between the two franchises, and probably one of the most important meetings in this rivalry’s history, as a spot in the playoffs was on the line.

When the two teams met in Week 9, the Panthers scored 20 unanswered points in the second and third quarter and hung on to beat the Falcons, 20-17. Quarterback Matt Ryan finished the game 24-of-38 for 313 yards and two touchdowns. Wide Receiver Julio Jones caught six passes for 118 yards, which was his 37th career 100-yard game.

The first half of the game saw more punts than action on the field and neither team was able to recover. For the Panthers, it was a lack of efficiency from quarterback Cam Newton and for the Falcons, a complete lack of a running game.


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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan finds Running Back Devontae Freeman for a five-yard gain against the Carolina Panthers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Sunday, December 31, 2017. (Hakim Wright/TPR)


It took Cam Newton four quarters to reach double-digit completions and managed an average of 5.5 yards per catch. Atlanta, on the other hand, experienced rushing woe like never before. Between four different rushers and 26 carries, the team totaled a very inefficient 60 yards for the game.

“We’re excited,” said an exuberant Matt Ryan about making the playoffs. “Obviously, we had to come away with a win today and play our way in. I thought we competed really well today and were aggressive throughout the game.”

With 4:08 left in the 4th quarter, the Falcons defense sealed the game. With the score 19-10, the Panthers were moving efficiency downfield until Falcons cornerback Keanu Neal intercepted a pass intended for Panthers’ Tight End Greg Olsen.

Quarterback Matt Ryan went 28-45 for 311 yards and a touchdown to finish the game. The downside to this is scoring a single touchdown in a 22-10 victory means there was some serious field goal attempts happening (five in all). The Falcons will need to get their offense in check before heading out to LA. The biggest difference maker in the playoffs is mistake-free football.

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Atlanta Falcons Running Back Devontae Freeman drags a Carolina Panther defender while gaining extra yards at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Sunday, December 31, 2017. (Hakim Wright/TPR)

On the positive end, the Falcons finished the game without committing a turnover (Carolina committed three), dominated possession (34:42 – 25:18), totaled more yardage (371 – 248), and achieved more 1st downs than Carolina (20 – 15). These are all good points to ride on into next week, but their offensive struggles need to be addressed and fast.

“The team, the team, the team; that’s what I thought of today in all three phases, their involvement, tough, physical game, exactly like we expected,” said Falcons head coach Dann Quinn. “This division is tough, and it’s a battle for it, and we certainly knew it would be a good fight from Carolina, and it was.”

The Atlanta Falcons will face the Los Angeles Rams next week in LA in the first round of the NFL playoffs.


-Jon J.

Photo: Hakim Wright


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