Here are the Falcons’ grades for the 30-28 thrilling win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
B-plus – QUARTERBACKS: Matt Ryan completed 25 of 40 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns. He finished with a quarterback rating of 107.2 and the Falcons improved to 27-0 when he has a passer rating of more than 100. He doesn’t have an ‘A’ because the last-minute drama would have been unnecessary if hadn’t thrown an interception in the end zone to Haruki Nakamura, whom he would later victimize, in the first quarter.
A-plus — RUNNING BACKS: Michael Turner powered his way to 103 yards on just 13 carries. He had some power runs and Jacquizz Rodgers chipped in with six rushes for 18 yards. Turner had his first career touchdown reception as he accounted for 171 total yards.
A-minus — RECEIVERS: Roddy White put on a show as he caught eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. No catch was bigger than his 59-yarder over Nakamura to kick-start the final drive. Gonzalez (five for 51) was solid as Julio Jones was used primarily as a decoy as his hand heals.
D-minus — OFFENSIVE LINE: Matt Ryan was on the move in the pocket. Carolina’s Charles Johnson did his best Lawrence Taylor impersonation. He was camped out in the backfield when he wasn’t sacking Ryan or putting hits on him. He had 3.5 sacks and five quarterback hits. Some guy name Frank Alexander got in on the action, too. He had 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits. The Falcons had given up just four sacks entering this game. The unit would have received an F, but they did spring Turner for more than 100 yards and they did hold up on the 59-yard pass play.
B — DEFENSIVE LINE: The defensive line did not adequately put Carolina’s Cam Newton under duress. They had three sacks and just three quarterback hits. They’ll have to ramp up the pass rush in the coming weeks. They were stout against Carolina’s zone-read dives as defensive end John Abraham had five tackles and tackle Jonathan Babineaux had three. Ray Edwards recovered a fumble and had three tackles.
B — LINEBACKERS: This group did most of the heaving lifting against the run. Stephen Nicholas led the team with eight tackles. Akeem Dent and Sean Weatherspoon both had four tackles. Both Nicholas and Weatherspoon had some nice open-field tackles on Cam Newton.
B — DEFENSIVE BACKS: Safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore had their toughest games of the season, but finished strong. Dunta Robinson forced a fumble on Steve Smith. Abraham saved Asante Samuel from getting into it scuffle with Steve Smith, when he just picked Samuel up and carried him away. Smith was held to three catches for 52 yards. Also, Robert McClain made his debut as the nickel back, replacing Dominique Franks.
A — SPECIAL TEAMS: Matt Bryant wasn’t around to tell us about the kick after the game, but he’s made nine in a row. Franks nearly broke another punt return for a touchdown, but was tripped up by Jason Phillips after an 18-yard return. Matt Bosher averaged a 42.4 on five punts and placed two inside the Panthers’ 20-yard line.
B — COACHING: The Falcons were running the ball down the Panthers’ throat on their second drive on the game, but started to pass inside the red zone and ended up tossing an interception. The call to get the field goal to cut it to 28-27 was an astute move. It paid off with the later field goal for the win. Sunday’s win against the Panthers moved Mike Smith ahead of Leeman Bennett who posted a 46-41 record between 1977 and 1982. Smith, who is now 47-21, trails only Dan Reeves who went 49-59-1 from 1997-03.
NEXT UP: Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins at 1 p.m. at FedEX Field.