It was a struggle all day.
In a game in which the Falcons defense held strong for three quarters, the Falcons offense never showed up in any sort of consistent fashion.
Matt Ryan was highly ineffective for the second straight week, throwing three interceptions, one of which was a pick six in the fourth quarter that put the game away.
This was the first time in the veteran quarterback's career that he has thrown at least three interceptions in consecutive weeks. Over the last two weeks, he's totaled seven. Part of the game against Arizona could be blamed on the offensive line, today, the O-line was not the culprit. The first two interceptions Ryan threw were into triple coverage. The last one was under-thrown. The blame this time rested squarely on the quarterback that just signed an extension worth $106.5 million dollars. Ryan finished the game going 20/27 for 219 yards with three interceptions and just one touchdown.
Penalties also hurt the Falcons including what would have been Steven Jackson's first rushing touchdown as a Falcon. After the Panthers carved through the Falcons defense to score a rushing touchdown, the Falcons did the same to Carolina's offense. On third down, after two unsuccessful red zone rushes, the Falcons stuck with the run. Steven Jackson rumbled his way into the end zone for the score, only to have the touchdown called back on a Garrett Reynolds holding penalty. This resulted in the Falcons having to settle for a field goal instead. This made the game 7-3 Carolina when it should have been 7-7.
Penalties also hurt on the defensive side of the ball. Desmond Trufant was flagged two times for drive extending pass interference calls (although one of those looked like the ball was tipped on the play), and there were many other penalties that extended Carolina drives when they shouldn't have been extended. The Falcons totaled seven penalties for 59 yards compared to Carolina's two for 15.
The Falcons would orchestrate their best drive at the end of the second quarter, resulting in a beautiful touchdown strike to Tony Gonzalez, who had one of his best games of the year. Gonzalez finished with six catches for 81 yards and the team's lone touchdown.
At this point, the Falcons were down 14-10. On Carolina's next drive, Cam Newton made an ill advised throw that resulted in his second interception of the game. Newton appeared to be trying to throw the ball away, but instead it found the hands of Robert Alford, who barely got two feet down in the corner of the end zone to record the interception.
This brought the first half to a close with the Falcons only trailing by four points, and the interception gave the Falcons some momentum heading into half time. The Falcons defense also hurried Newton quite a bit, and even though they only had one sack, they were constantly in Cam Newton's face. Even though the Falcons are slipping further and further down a slippery slope as a team, at least the pass rush is starting to become a factor.
The offense though, the very thing for which this team was relying on, struggled against Carolina's defense all day, and it wound up being the difference in the game. The defense kept gave the Falcons every opportunity to put some points on the board, and always kept the Falcons close. But the offense just couldn't come through. In the second half, the Falcons didn't even bang through another disappointing, drive stalling field goal.
The third quarter was ugly on all fronts with only three points being scored by the Panthers. The defense continued its gutsy performance, while the offense continued to sputter.
In the fourth quarter, The Panthers wore down the Falcons defense, and one play in particular was the perfect metaphor for the entire Falcons season.
After Newton hurled a pass to receiver Brandon Lafell, the four year veteran was stripped as he was running towards the end zone by Asante Samuel.
The ball bounced right to Robert Alford. Alford fell on it, but tried to grab the ball one second to late. The ball bounced off of Alford and right back into the hands of Lafell at around the ten yard line.
The Falcons could have gotten the ball back and given the scuffling offense one last chance to prove itself. Instead, on the very next play, Newton rushed into the end zone for a touchdown that would put the game away at 24-10.
To make matters worse, on the Falcons next drive, Ryan threw the aforementioned pick six that turned this game into a drubbing, making it 31-10.
The Panthers would add on another field goal to continue the Falcons' suffering, making it 34-10.
The Falcons offense wasted what was (albeit there were some badly missed tackles and other warts) a gritty effort by the defense. This included the incredible effort by Paul Worrilow who recorded 19 total tackles.
Now the Falcons will face the dreaded Seattle Seahawks next week, who will be looking to exact vengeance on these Falcons after they lost 30-28 in the NFC divisional round last year.
The Falcons will just desperately trying to win a game in a season full of aspirations that has become a living nightmare.
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