Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan pulled off some of his trademark late-game heroics in the previous meeting with the Panthers.
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.
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.
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.
Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson nearly trashed the entire offense when the Panthers and the Falcons played Sept. 30 at the Georgia Dome.
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.”
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, of College Park and Westlake High, is having a rough second NFL season.
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.
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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.
“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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