CHARLOTTE, NC — Eleven days ago, the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers played out one of the NFL’s most exciting games of the year. Atlanta’s overtime back-and-forth included a Hail Mary, an expensive excessive party penalty, missed kicks and a 37-34 Falcons win.
This one didn’t necessarily have as much action or excitement.
The Panthers took a 13-0 lead and kept the Falcons at bay on their way to a 25-15 victory Thursday at Bank of America Stadium. Running back D’Onta Foreman rushed 31 times for 130 yards and a touchdown, while receiver Laviska Shenault completed a 41-yard back pass home for Carolina’s first touchdown of the game.
The Falcons, meanwhile, squandered an opportunity to secure sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the NFC South.
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Foreman once again roamed the Falcons. Two Sundays ago, he had 118 yards on 26 carries and scored three times. Carolina leaned on him even more in the team’s second game of the season, and Foreman raced hard all night to propel the Falcons to victory.
The Panthers pass the race
Atlanta quarterback Marcus Mariota had black jerseys around him all night and the Panthers’ first-seven ability to generate pressure was a big reason for Carolina’s victory.
Frankie Luvu and Marquis Haynes had two sacks each and Carolina finished with five. The Panthers had nine more base hits on Mariota.
The interim head coach had his team ready for the short week, and the coaching staff executed a game plan — especially on the defensive side of the ball — that kept Atlanta off balance all night. The former Arizona Cardinals head coach is now 2-4 since Matt Rhule was fired Oct. 10.
Panthers Special Teams
Bettors had more clout in a game that didn’t feature a ton of offense. Atlanta’s Bradley Pinion was inconsistent at best, but the Panthers’ Johnny Hekker rose to the occasion. Hekker averaged 43.2 yards on his five punts. Two of those boots were shot down in the five-yard line. The battle for position on the field significantly hampered the Falcons’ offense.
Eddie Pineiro, who missed a potentially game-winning extra point in regulation and a game-ending overtime field goal in the final game against Atlanta, was 4-for-4 on field goals. He missed an extra point, but Pineiro’s kicks from 46, 49, 40 and 37 yards were part of a rebounding performance.
They were just doing their job, but the flags hit the turf on what looked like every other game. Carolina was penalized 10 times for 89 yards, while Atlanta was called for four fouls (37 yards).
Conditions were less than ideal, as a drizzle hung over the city all afternoon; the rain resumed before the match and in the second half.
This made throwing the ball even harder for the Panthers’ PJ Walker and Mariota. For offenses ranked 30th and 25th respectively in the league, going into this game, a slippery ball and playfield was an unwanted development.
Mariota went 19 of 30 for 186 yards, nearly half of that on Atlanta’s final touchdown in the fourth quarter, making it a seven-point game. The Panthers’ 2021 first-round pick, cornerback Jaycee Horn, knocked him out in the first half.
Walker went 10-for-16 for 108 yards and didn’t have to do much more than put the pigskin in Foreman’s gut.
The No. 4 overall pick a year ago, it’s becoming clear that Pitts won’t thrive in the current offense — or at least with Mariota at quarterback. He had a catch before the final 3:30 of the game and finished with two catches for 28 yards.
That’s slightly better than last week – he had two catches for 27 yards against the Los Angeles Chargers in a 17-14 loss.
This game looked lousy on the schedule at the start of the season and the first half of the year did little to raise that expectation.
Until then, someone please give Al Michaels a hug. The legendary broadcaster sometimes seems anxious during these games. At least he’s one of us.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.