Written by Brett Korpi
ATLANTA-With a spot in the NFC playoffs on the line, The Atlanta Falcons, who have built their reputation over the years on their high-powered offense, received enormous contributions from their defense and kicker Matt Bryant to secure a post-season berth with a 22-10 victory over division rival Carolina Panthers.
Bryant was called upon five times to deliver points for the Falcons. He produced every time converting all five field goal attempts including a long of 56-yards in the fourth quarter to help seal the victory.
“He’s such a competitor, and we really rely and count on him. The reason we have so much trust is because everybody sees the way he prepares, they see the way he trains, and he delivers. So, we’ve got all the faith and confidence when those windows open up within his wheelhouse, we’re going to give him every opportunity because that’s a part of his game that is not too big. He’s ready to always attack and play. Part of being a really successful kicker is having mental toughness, and he’s got that in abundance.” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said.
The 22-points scored by the Falcons would not have been enough if it was not for the stingy play provided by the defense. The Atlanta D was able to hold the Panthers to just 248 totals.
The secondary gave Carolina quarterback Cam Newton fits all day holding him to 14-of-34 passing for just 180 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. The Falcons were also able to contain Newton holding him to only 59 yards rushing and brought him down in the backfield twice.
The turnovers provided by the defense were crucial for Quinn who has harped for weeks that the defense needed to get to the ball and win the turnover battle. He talked about how it felt for the defense to deliver turnovers
“It felt great, and I thought outside, [Desmond] Trufant and [Robert] Alford really played a strong game. They challenged and played at the line. I don’t know how many pass breakups they had, but it certainly felt like all three groups, the front, the linebackers, the secondary, the communication was really good. But we knew we’d keep harping and digging to play and attack the ball. Some opportunities would be there, and that was certainly the difference tonight.”
The scoring started in the first quarter when quarterback Matt Ryan hit Devonta Freeman on a short pass for a 19-yard touchdown. Bryant’s PAT made it a 7-0 with 4:29 remaining in the quarter.
The Panthers would respond at the end of the second half when Newton would complete seven straight passes after missing on his first nine attempts. Devin Funchess caught a four-yard pass from Newton in the end zone, and Graham Cano would hit the extra-point to tie the game at 7-7 heading into halftime.
Halfway through the third quarter is when Bryant would begin his field goal spree connecting on a 30-yard field goal to make it 10-7.
Bryant would be called upon four more times connecting from distances of 42, 30, 56 and 33. The five field goals made in the second half were career high for a single half for Bryant.
Cano made a 42-yard field goal of his own for the Panthers.
Offensively the Falcons were able to move the ball quite bit through the air as Ryan was 28-of-45 for 317 yards and the touchdown. Freeman and Jones each had over 80-yards receiving.
The victory puts Falcons in position to defend their NFC conference title. Earning the final Wildcard spot, Atlanta (10-6) will travel to Los Angeles to take on the NFC West division champions Rams on Saturday, January 6, at 8:15 PM ET.