Early Sunday afternoon, the Falcons were able to avoid a late-game collapse against the Panthers in an NFC South matchup that felt more like a playoff game.
Carolina would not go away. Even after the Falcons lead by 14 points on two separate occasions, their late stage push kept the dirty birds on their heels until the final whistle.
No Freeman? No problem. Tevin Coleman provided excellent numbers on the ground after rushing for 107 yards on 16 attempts. Ito Smith followed in support with 46 yards on nine carries. Coleman’s yardage was just 14 shy of eclipsing Carolina’s total as a team.
Neither team had a bad passing game, but Cam Newton definitely got the most out of his receiving core. Devin Funchess had a solid game with seven receptions for 77 yards. Jarius Wright snagged a good 62 yards himself. But the clear standout for Carolina was Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey seemed unstoppable. He was a force in both rushing and passing. He averaged 7.3 yards per receptions and racked up 102 yards total. Rushing, he tallied 37 yards from eight carries. He was not only reliable but a heavy part of their production.
For those who are unaware, starting safety Keanu Neal is out for the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury in their Week 1 loss to the Eagles. Today, his replacement Damontae Kazee was ejected early in the second quarter after leading with his helmet on a hit to Cam Newton. “The official had come over and said it was both fouls as the quarterback was sliding, more like a targeting one where we hit him in the head,” said Head Coach Dan Quinn. “They supported the call and I had not seen it.”
Both teams totaled over 700 yards offensively (ATL 741, CAR 732) so the game was just as close as the score depicts. But defense wins games and inevitably, that’s what worked in the Falcons favor.
“We fought. At the end of the day, we knew we had a lot of missing people on the defense and a lot of new people in different spots, so we had to communicate as much as possible” said safety Ricardo Allen after the game. “They’re good too. But we went out there, we battled hard, and we got the W.”
I’d be remiss to mention rookie Calvin Ridley’s first NFL touchdown. Carolina was leading 10-3 before Ridley caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan. “It was a really good feeling and for Matt to connect with me for my first touchdown, it felt good.”
The Falcons (1-1) will be back next Sunday, Sept. 23 for another NFC South battle against the New Orleans Saints.
Photo: Hakim Wright