GAME STORY: Falcons 31, Panthers 17

On a key third-and 12, Atlanta's Harry Douglas gets past the Panthers' Captain Munnerlyn for a 34--yard gain and a first down on the go-ahead drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Matt Ryan. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

On a key third-and 12, Atlanta's Harry Douglas gets past the Panthers' Captain Munnerlyn for a 34--yard gain and a first down on the go-ahead drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Matt Ryan. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

No one was popping champagne bottles  in the Falcons’ locker room after this one.

But in pivotal situation, the Falcons were in a celebratory mood after a morale-boosting 31-17 victory over rookie sensation Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

“I felt we got back on track,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said after watching his team string together 17 unanswered, fourth-quarter points to steam past the Panthers.

The Falcons improved to 3-3 and play the upstart Detroit Lions (5-1) next week; the Panthers dropped to 1-5.

“It’s a huge win for us,” cornerback Dunta Robinson said. “It was big for our morale. It was big for our confidence as a football team.”

The Panthers led 17-14 going into the fourth quarter and appeared primed to spring the upset. A defeat would have been devastating for the Falcons, the defending NFC South champions, who some considered Super Bowl contenders in the preseason.

After previously struggling for consistency, Tony Gonzalez said the Carolina performance was the closest to a full 60-minute game this season.

The Falcons found success by sticking with Michael Turner and the rushing attack. They called 35 running plays and attempted just 22 passes, with rookie wide receiver Julio Jones missing the game with a hamstring injury. Turner finished with 139 yards on 27 carries and scored two touchdowns.

The defense struggled early to get off the field on third downs. Newton converted 8 of 9 third-down situations, before the Falcons had three consecutive third-down stops to close out the game.

“We’d like to get on a roll here,” left tackle Sam Baker said.

The Falcons didn’t want to consider the prospects of dropping to 2-4, had they lost, before heading into the Detroit game, which is followed by a bye week.

“I don’t know if it turns the whole season around,” Gonzalez said. “It’s something that you can build on, knowing that you can come up with plays when you have to.”

Turner scored on a 1-yard run to give the Falcons a 7-3 lead, and fullback Ovie Mughelli caught a 1-yard touchdown pass, for a 14-10 Atlanta advantage at halftime.

The Panthers, with Newton looking far more poised than a rookie, took the lead on the quarterback’s 14-yard run to make it 17-14.

After an exchange of punts, the Falcons tied the game on Matt Bryant’s 24-yard field goal.

On the next series, different defensive looks by the Falcons’ defense started to bother Newton and the Panthers were forced to punt.

While the running game was featured, quarterback Matt Ryan picked up two key  third-down conversion with passes to Gonzalez and Harry Douglas. Douglas’ catch, a 34-yarder, came on a third-and-12. Ryan capped the 10-play, 60-yard drive with a 1-yard scoring run to make it 24-17.

Defensive tackle Corey Peters intercepted Newton on the ensuing possession, Peters snagging the screen pass with one hand.

Eight plays later, Turner slammed into the end zone from 2 yards out for the final margin.

In earlier games this season, the Falcons fell behind and couldn’t stick to their rushing attack.

“We just tried to stay steady and kept hammering them,” Turner said. “We kind of wore them out at the end.”

It was Turner’s third 100-yard rushing game of the season.

“We are a run-first team,” Turner said. “I think everybody on the team would say that. We have to get in better situations and not play from behind.”

Turner believes that the Falcons wore down the Panthers’ defense.

“When you keep putting together long drives, consistently for the whole games, defenses are going to wear out,” Turner said. “We are going to keep throwing different stuff at them. We wanted to keep them off balance.”

Turner would like to see the Falcons stick to the running game.

“If it’s not broke, then don’t fix it,” Turner said.

The Falcons’ pass defense also had a strong showing, intercepting Newton three times and forcing him into a 44.6 passer rating. He had thrown for 1,610 yards over his first five games, the most ever by a rookie.

Newton, the former Auburn and Westlake High School star, completed 21 of 35 passes for 237 yards and no touchdowns. He was also sacked twice.

“He was as poised as any veteran quarterback that we’ve seen,” Robinson said. “He manages the game well and he makes plays. He can hurt you with his arm and his feet. His accuracy is way better than any rookie that I’ve seen…Cam is going to be a great quarterback in this league one day”

The Falcons hope they’ve rediscovered their winning ways with the rushing attack and timely stops on defense.

“That’s our strength,” Turner said.

Gonzalez said, “If we can keep this up, we’ll be a good team.”

–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog

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21 comments Add your comment

Michael M.

October 16th, 2011
9:04 pm

Marcus

October 16th, 2011
9:10 pm

nice. check the game film on the 49ers to see how to beat the Lions. I wouldn’t risk too many passes w/Suh and Fairley lining up over Hawley/McClure. One good thing is that we have seen and beaten a wide-9 defense already … but one could say that the middle of the Eagles D is much weaker than the Lions.

JONESBORO SLIM

October 16th, 2011
9:30 pm

For all of you who said Ryan couldn’t throw long…. the pass the to White was 50+ yards….

poppa falcon

October 16th, 2011
9:58 pm

Turner is right……..if it aint broke, don’t fix it. Excellent ground game today.

l jones

October 16th, 2011
10:19 pm

The important thing is Cam got to look cool doing his cute little dance. It was nice to have him BACK! And nice to see him get his BACKside handed to him. But at least he’s a cute little dancer. A cute little 1-5 dancer.

JayCool 4DABirds

October 16th, 2011
10:49 pm

I’m glad the Falcons won and I look foward to them keeping it up. If we play like I know we can, Detroit will not be a problem at all. All those lucky comeback wins that they were getting may have stopped today.

CGD..

October 16th, 2011
11:35 pm

Big Win! But Carolina is a 1-5 team for a reason… Calm down.. Long road to travel with 10 left…

Yea Ryan had two nice throws today…Keep it up..

FYI, Flaco threw two bombs for over 50 yards each down the middle! Crazy…And they roll to 4-1..

Mike Franklin

October 17th, 2011
12:00 am

The win is good and I ain’t gonna gripe. But this team has gotta get better in all aspects of the game or we’ll be lucky to end the season at .500

E

October 17th, 2011
4:27 am

still having issues with the pass rush (no consistent pressure) on the QB

north

October 17th, 2011
5:25 am

Enter your comments here

G. Gallman

October 17th, 2011
7:07 am

As Dled stated in the first line…”No one was popping champagne bottles in the Falcons’ locker room after this one”. Yes it’s a W but the defense started a little slow…Not enough pressure on the Rookie QB. hopefully this week we can make some adjustments. We did not want Matt Stafford sitting in the pocket waiting on MegaTron to get open. NO NO NO…Offense, great job…I think 30 points on the board will lead us to victory every Sunday… GO FALCONS

rich

October 17th, 2011
7:25 am

great win :) didn’t really struggle and scoreline wasn’t close. abit disappointed in 3rd down efficiency on 3rd down defence, but we ran well, we used douglas and created turnovers.

AlanFalcon

October 17th, 2011
8:44 am

Anybody here notice that Cam took off like a wounded deer after the game, didn’t bother to stop, shake hands or speak to anyone (showed alot of class) or the lack of class. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Falcons > Everyone

October 17th, 2011
10:56 am

Nobody should be saying, ‘yeah, but…’ unless you’re a troll. A win is a win is a win. We played to our strengths on offense (minus Roddy) and didn’t break on D. Good performance, now on to Detroit.

yeahsure

October 17th, 2011
10:58 am

Great win yesterday.

That being said, i still feel like we didn’t use the run game to set up the passing game that well. Like stated above, Roddy had a dissapearing act. I thought Tony would have a monster game with Carolinas LBs being out. Turner broke quite a few tackles and ran the ball well even on the outside. I hope we can bring Quizz in more than just 3rd downs to really change the pace of our run game and keep the defense on their heels.

Go Falcons.

scottie 4500

October 17th, 2011
11:01 am

we need to be aggressive every game just like that when we go up against good def. we dont be that aggressive!

I say:

October 17th, 2011
11:03 am

I believe we’re 5-0 in those jerseys, they look sweet, let’s make them permanent. But on a more serious note, We stuck to the run, even though it kills me seeing us run on first and second downs, but Turner kept breaking off big ones. So keep it up. Ryan apparently has an arm. That throw was beast, but Roddy just mistimed it. HD had big plays, but I was disappointed to not see Meier catch some balls. The defense, well, we’re probably an opportunistic D. The Saints look beatable and the texans do too, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we win out and go 13-3 or 12-4. But kinda too soon to tell., I suppose

Get off the field

October 17th, 2011
11:30 am

Our 3rd down defense was still horrible. I actually assumed every 3rd and long the Panthers had they would still be able to convert. Get your defense off the field.

Falcons 4 Real

October 17th, 2011
12:09 pm

Quality win against a team that plays much better than its talent level. It was nice to see us run the ball with authority like last year. Third down defense still needs to improve, the pass rush is still consistently inconsistant even with Babs back and still way too many wide open receivers. Awesome day for Turner, he’s been due. Congrats to Ovie for his TD catch, well deserved. Roddy appears to still be struggling with that lingering injury. HD was good enough even though he still played flanker like a slot receiver. At least he got a couple of catches which we haven’t seen in a while. Bosher is getting better week to week. Ice was great making adjustments at the line. The first thing I did when I got home was watch Peters INT. If the Braves need a center fielder look no farther than #91. What was up with the halftime presentation for Deion and then giving him all of 30 seconds to speak? I think that’s the fewest words he’s spoken in one sitting.
Go Falcons!

#1SaintsFan

October 17th, 2011
12:23 pm

Congrats Falcons:
I said I would come back and “eat my words” if you guys won and you did, So congrats,,Enjoy the win!.Our boys clearly has some problems to fix and I think we will!!

bama52

October 18th, 2011
9:03 pm

Way to go defense, you made some big plays. Matt Ryan made some good check downs to his secondary receivers. He stepped up in the pocket real good, but when he’s stepping up in the pocket he needs to make those chop.chop steps,cut his strive and stay under control looking down the field. This give him the option to throw to a secondary receiver,running back,run or just throw the ball away. If the running back is open on a pass play get the ball to him quick and in strive,this way the RB has a chance to make moves on defenders.Practice the sideline fly pattern Douglas was open, Matt may need to hit him earlier in that route.