GAMEDAY CENTRAL: Falcons at Panthers at 1 p.m. Sunday

QB corner: Matt Ryan on the Panthers

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan pulled off some of his trademark late-game heroics in the previous meeting with the Panthers.

Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan (2) throws a pass against the Carolina Panthers during the third quarter of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan (2) throws a pass against the Carolina Panthers during the third quarter of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

The Panthers had a 28-27 lead and the Falcons pinned on their 1-yard line with 59 seconds to play, but the Panthers could not close the deal.

Ryan tossed a bomb to Roddy White that gained 59 yards. After an incomplete pass, the Falcons picked up 5 yards on a defensive pass-interference call, then 7 yards on a pass to Tony Gonzalez and 6 yards on a pass to Harry Douglas.

After the Falcons called their last timeout, Matt Bryant kicked the game-winning 40-yard field goal.

Here’s a brief Q&A involving Ryan and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter.

Q: What can you do more as a quarterback to slow the Panthers’ pass rush?

A: When we watched tape from the last time, I’ve got to get rid of the ball in some different situations. I put our offensive line in some tough spots. That’s something that I need to focus on.

Q: How is Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly playing?

A: He’s playing great. He really is. He’s a guy who’s a rookie, (and) if you don’t get a good fit in the run game, then he makes a lot of tackles. He’s extremely productive for them. He’s playing at a different spot than we saw last time. He’s playing at the Mike linebacker spot, and I think he’s doing a really good job. He’s good against the run. He’s good at defending the pass, too. He’s probably a better athlete than I thought, and he’s playing at a high level.

Q: Why do the Falcons have such a tough time with the Panthers?

A: Anytime you play in the division you can throw records out. It’s always going to be a tough matchup.

The X-factor: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who was caught by Fox TV cameras telling the Panthers to “get the (expletive) off our field” after the teams met Sept. 30 at the Georgia Dome, is the X-Factor for this battle between the NFC South champs and the basement-dwelling Panthers.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Julio Jones during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Julio Jones during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

In the third quarter of the season, some of Ryan’s key statistics have dipped appreciably. Over the first four games of the season, Ryan tossed 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. In games 5 through 8, he threw six touchdown passes and four interceptions.

In the past four games, he threw five touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

He has two touchdown passes and six interceptions over the past three games. In his previous outing, he completed only 54.5 percent of his passes and threw for 165 yards, both totals were season-lows.

“We just missed on a couple of opportunities,” Ryan said of the game against the Saints on Nov. 29. “We had some third downs that we fell short by a yard or two on a handful of those. It’s just the little things like that that get you into a rhythm.”

Falcons coach Mike Smith said that the offense was just out of sync.

“We have to do a better job of executing,” Ryan said. “We weren’t at our best in terms of execution last week.”

Ryan expects another rough-and-tumble battle with the Panthers.

“In the NFC South, every time you line up against one of your opponents, it’s a physical matchup for 60 minutes,” Ryan said. “Carolina is one of the more physical teams we play all year. Their front four is as good as really any we go against. They do a great job rushing the passer, but they’re also stout against the run.”

In the 30-28 victory on Sept. 30, Ryan passed for 369 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked seven times by a ferocious Panthers pass rush.

On the hot seat: Falcons right tackle Tyson Clabo

Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson nearly trashed the entire offense when the Panthers and the Falcons played Sept. 30 at the Georgia Dome.

Justin Blalock (left) and Tyson Clabo help Ryan to his feet after a hit against Tampa Bay back in 2008. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Justin Blalock (left) and Tyson Clabo help Ryan to his feet after a hit against Tampa Bay back in 2008. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Right tackle Tyson Clabo will be on the hot seat to slow Johnson this time around.

Johnson had 3.5 of the Panthers’ franchise single-game record seven sacks and made his presence felt.

“Charles is a good player,” Clabo said. “He’s been a good player for a long time. We just need to not let him wreck the whole game like he did last time.”

The seven sacks allowed are a season-high for the Falcons.

Clabo didn’t try to sugarcoat what happened in the previous game. He attributed Johnson’s showing to some breakdowns and bad blocking.

“When you’re playing a good player like Charles, if you combine those things, it can be bad, and he can have a really good day, which he did,” Clabo said. “Hopefully, this time around we’ll get that corrected and protect (quarterback) Matt (Ryan) a little better.”

Clabo will receive some help in the form of double-team and chip blocks on Johnson.

“Charles Johnson is an outstanding pass rusher,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “I think it shows by what they did in terms of re-signing him as a free agent. He’s explosive off the football, and you’ve got to make sure that you don’t always put guys on an island.

“You’ve got to design your protections at times to give them assistance and at times to have routes where you can get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands as well.”

Connections: Newton leads Georgia contingent in Charlotte

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, of College Park and Westlake High, is having a rough second NFL season.

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton responds to a question during a news conference during the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton responds to a question during a news conference during the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

But over the past five games, he’s responsible for 12 touchdowns (nine passing, three rushing) and only two turnovers.

“We all play to win football games,” Newton said. “It’s kind of frustrating when you don’t win, but we still have to look forward to continue to get better.”

Newton is the first NFL player with 30-plus touchdown passes and 20-plus rushing touchdowns in his first two seasons.

Other connections include:

  • Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert, who is from Douglasville.
  • Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, who is from Shellman and played at Georgia.
  • Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson, who is from Hawkinsville and played at Georgia.
  • Panthers defensive tackle Frank Kearse, who is from Savannah.
  • Falcons coach Mike Smith, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and defensive line coach Ray Hamilton were on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ staff with Panthers quarterbacks coach Mike Shula in 2007.
  • Falcons secondary coach Tim Lewis was the secondary coach for the Panthers from 2007-08.
  • Panthers tight ends coach Pat Hoener was a member of Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s staff in San Francisco when Nolan was the 49ers’ head coach.
  • Falcons wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie coached with Panthers offensive coordinator Bob Chudzinski and wide receivers coach Fred Graves in Cleveland in 2004.

Stat corner: Falcons run defense vs. Carolina run offense

The Panthers ran for 199 yards in the team’s previous meeting this season, and quarterback Cam Newton doesn’t believe that total will be hard to duplicate.

111812 ATLANTA: ----BABINEAUX TOUCHDOWN-- Falcons defensive end Jonathan Babineaux recovers a Cardinals turnover during 2nd quarter action and runs it into the endzone for a touchdown to cut the Cardinals lead to 13-10 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

111812 ATLANTA: ----BABINEAUX TOUCHDOWN-- Falcons defensive end Jonathan Babineaux recovers a Cardinals turnover during 2nd quarter action and runs it into the endzone for a touchdown to cut the Cardinals lead to 13-10 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

“I don’t think it will be any problem,” Newton said. “We’ve got guys that are hungry to play this game. If we go out and execute, then it will be a good day at the office.”

Newton leads the Panthers in rushing with 524 yards on 95 carries. Running back DeAngelo Williams has 359 yards rushing on 103 carries.

Running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) missed practice time this week and may not be available.

The Falcons’ run defense was still finding its way when the teams met in Week 4. The run defense has been much stouter since Jonathan Babineaux moved to end in some alignments, as the defense basically has played with three defensive tackles and one end in running situations.

Over the past two games, the unit held Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin to 50 yards rushing and the Saints to 101 yards. The run defense also benefited from the return of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon from an ankle injury.

The Panthers have averaged 112.8 yards rushing per game and rank 16th in the NFL. The Falcons have given up 121.3 yards per game, 20th in the league.

“This is a good rushing football team,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “We certainly have to play better than we did the first time that we played them. This is an offense that has a different element in terms of how they run the football with the quarterback and having to account for him as a runner.”

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32 comments Add your comment

season ticket holder

December 8th, 2012
10:07 am

This game will be much different from the first. We’ve begun to stop the run better and run the ball better.

David

December 8th, 2012
3:39 pm

I hate to say Cams is from because he is an arrogant piece of $hit.

David

December 8th, 2012
3:40 pm

Sausage King of Chicago

December 8th, 2012
5:26 pm

If the Falcons let Fig Newton score and he does that Superman thing I think my head might explode!!

Sausage King of Chicago

December 8th, 2012
5:27 pm

I hate figs!

JSS

December 8th, 2012
11:34 pm

Hey Yo, Check Your Filter.

BobbyDawg

December 9th, 2012
6:05 am

I hope we keep running Turner to the edge like we did in the last NO game instead of up the middle where they normally send him. That first run around right end for 35 yds. against NO was great. Turner between the tackles just isn’t that effective anymore. It seems as if everybody’s on to it. Falcons 28 Punthers 14 GO FALCONS !

GregKennesaw

December 9th, 2012
7:47 am

He looks like a clown when he does that

goFalcons

December 9th, 2012
8:02 am

This clown Newton running his mouth. I see pain in his forecast!

Elvis is Alive

December 9th, 2012
8:59 am

We are not quite at full strength, yet I feel this will be a blowout.
Our offense can run Hot or Cold. Today we will be “Hot”.
We win games with a variety of players who can step up.
I’d like to see someone else besides MT33 rush for the majority of the snaps. Let him rest his elbow.
“Pick your Poison”is a great mantra. I only hope we can stop the pass rush.
Time to get “Angry”.
Falcons 34-Panthers 28 in a close game again..

Elvis is Alive

December 9th, 2012
9:02 am

The Panthers will make it close in the fourth quarter after we are up by 3 touchdowms. Why?
Our tendency to lay back and protect a lead,instead of putting our opponent down and forcing them to staydown.

goFalcons

December 9th, 2012
9:15 am

The Falcons 56 Panthers 6! The Falcons give up a early FG and one at the end with the 3rd string playing Defense! Can’t wait to get this one going.

NumberOneDirtyBird

December 9th, 2012
11:15 am

I see a 35-17 game…the next two week Dirk has to establish the offensive tempo that we need to have in the play off. This week and next week we have two team that can rush the passer. Dirk will try to figure out the best way to attack that for our play off run. Don’t expect to see to much Cheeseburger in this game because Quizz will be getting that rock most of the time!

JSS

December 9th, 2012
11:21 am

(FAKE) JSS
December 8th, 2012
11:34 pm
“Hey Yo, Check Your Filter.”

Why? It is pretty easy to spot a weak impostor… Typical phony AJC blogger wannabe, nothing better to do, or be!

Answer This

December 9th, 2012
12:37 pm

Lets go Birds! Time to RISE UP NATION! Sitting williemo is a good idea….i wonder how healthy AS really is? No matter good to see him bite his lip and be tough just hope that shoulder does not bite hard. Lets go Nation!

Notomorrow

December 9th, 2012
1:43 pm

Is it just me or do the Fox announcers have a man crush on Cam?

? mark

December 9th, 2012
1:53 pm

sooooo much love for Cam per fox announcers.

? mark

December 9th, 2012
1:55 pm

Ready for a good but whipping.

Rick in Warner Robins

December 9th, 2012
2:12 pm

Game is on now and Falcons look like a bunch of amateurs…cant’ tackle, can’t get any pressure on Newton, can’t pass defend. Dunta Robinson couldn’t cover a 100 year old man running a pass route. He just doesn’t even get close to the receivers…he’s pathetic. and Christopher Owens isn’t much better. Falcons will lose this game…they aren’t playing with any fire whatsoever.

BravesFan79

December 9th, 2012
2:23 pm

Wouldnt bother me at all if coach Smith sat Ryan and rested all the starters in the 2nd half. Its obvious the players arent pumped up for this game, and sending the message to the Panthers that “you matter so little that we dont have to play our starters” would be a bigger diss than winning the game would be.

Dan

December 9th, 2012
2:23 pm

Does anybody have the courage to tell Matt Ryan that his play is stinking up the place??? I’ve just watched this first half of the Panthers game and he doesn’t seem to get it. He has a responsibility to produce. I’ve watched the Falcons since their inception in 1966 and I have never seen a quarter with so little reaction to their own poor play. I think the coaches are afraid of upsetting him, he being the great and glorious Matty Ice.

BravesFan79

December 9th, 2012
2:27 pm

If the Falcons are gonna look like crap, we might as well look like crap with our backups. Besides, we can take 2 losses and still have the #1 seed in the NFC. Loosing Matt Ryan to injury would be much worse than just loosing this game. I think we will make a run in the 3rd quarter, but if we dont, we should play it safe and rest pple.

? mark

December 9th, 2012
2:37 pm

Enter your comments here

? mark

December 9th, 2012
2:44 pm

when the falcons can play good with the good teams and stomp the bad teams then i will beleive.

Walt

December 9th, 2012
2:47 pm

I guess the Panthers are better than the Falcons!

? mark

December 9th, 2012
2:52 pm

playing like a 1 and 11 team

Dan

December 9th, 2012
3:03 pm

Has Daunte Robinson ever gotten an interception as a Falcon?

jim

December 9th, 2012
3:38 pm

Why do they need a new stadium, just let them play in the stadium that Moreshouse used. If they are not going to play the rest of the season then give us our money back.

Notomorrow

December 9th, 2012
3:43 pm

Get ready folks, this will be the Falcons in their one and only Playoff game!!!

Walt

December 9th, 2012
3:47 pm

Playoff preview!

Dan

December 9th, 2012
3:51 pm

What’s really bad is that Ryan doesn’t realize how much of this is his fault. I mean really, taking sacks instead of overthrowing someone out of bounds or down field? He’s killing drives with bad throws and taking sacks. Watching games all year, you had to know this was coming.

DM

December 9th, 2012
4:06 pm

That was the WORST PERFORMANCE EVER! How can you be 11-1 and play like that.
Terrible play calling. The coaching was at its worst! The falcons are overrated!