The Falcons’ offensive line had a long day against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The unit, which had played well in the previous three games, was shredded for seven sacks and allowed quarterback Matt Ryan to be hit 12 times.
But with the game on the line and the Falcons backed up, the unit held long enough to let Ryan launch a 59-yard pass from the back of the end zone.
“We didn’t play our best ball today, but that just goes to show you that we always have a chance,” center Todd McClure said. “If we’ve got the ball and are within a score, we always have a shot. We found a way to win.”
Ryan made a plea for the line to dig in on that long throw. He knew he had to cover a lot of ground and needed a little time.
“I thought our offensive line did a great job,” Ryan said. “We put certain guys in there specifically for that protection and they blocked it up and gave us an opportunity to shoot it down as far as we could.”
Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson did most of the damage with 3.5 sacks and five quarterback hits. Frank Alexander had 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits. Greg Hardy and Ron Edwards also had sacks.
Johnson and Alexander gave Falcons tackles Sam Baker and Tyson Clabo fits. The Falcons also brought in offensive guards Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley as tight ends in power formations to help with the blocking.
The Falcon had given up just four sacks in victories over Kansas City, Denver and San Diego.
But the Falcons knew their line could struggle against athletic fronts from the playoff loss to the New York Giants. The team drafted offensive linemen with their second and third round picks, but center-guard Peter Konz and tackle Lamar Holmes could not unseat the veterans and are still getting some seasoning from offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn.
Despite the relentless pressure, the unit continued to battle through its long day.
“You’ve got to win close games,” McClure said. “I think it’s something down the road that we’ll be able to draw back on. We are not going to always be up two scores in the fourth quarter. That was an experience that we’ll be able to draw on later in the season.”
Defense stood up
Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux was proud of his line mate John Abraham, who had left the scene by the time the media was allowed in the locker room.
Abraham’s forced fumble on Cam Newton knocked the ball back 1-yard and ended up getting the ball back for the offense.
“That’s what our defense is made of,” Babineaux said. “We have to stop the offense no matter what part of the game it is. That’s our job. We stepped up today on the third-and-one and made them punt the ball.”
Carolina scored first and the Falcons found themselves behind for the first time this season.
“I think we came out too relaxed,” Babineaux said. “As the game went on, we stepped up and did our responsibilities and tried to make it a game. It was a division opponent. We knew they were going to come in and give us a great challenge.”
Gonzalez knew what to do
Tight end Tony Gonzalez had a big play, hauling in a 7-yard gain on the play following White’s 59-yard gain. With no timeouts, it was vital that he get out of bounds to stop the clock.
“I’ve been around a long time,” Gonzalez said. “I knew what had to be done. We had no timeouts left. You have to make a play and make a break for the sidelines.”
Where were you?
Falcons safety William Moore is not exactly sure where he was in 1986, the first time the Falcons were 4-0, but he has a good guess.
“I was probably chilling in the cradle, you know what I mean,” Moore said. “I was watching TV or something. I was born in 1985. I was out in the world. I was chilling, probably watching Sesame Street.”