This time, the Atlanta Falcons finished.
Matt Ryan on Thursday threw for 281 yards and ran for a touchdown, while Koo Young-hoe made four field goals as the Atlanta Falcons held on to beat the Carolina Panthers 25-17 behind a strong defensive performance to avoid a series sweep.
The Falcons (2-6) have had a penchant for squandering leads, coming into the game 1-3 when leading entering the fourth quarter. Carolina were driving late, but Atlanta stopped the rally when Blidi Wreh-Wilson intercepted Teddy Bridgewater near the Falcons’ 10-yard line with 1 minute, 4 seconds remaining.
“That’s what we’ve been talking about, ending games with either sacks or interceptions, and the guys went out today and did exactly that,” Falcons coach Raheem Morris. “The ball went up in the air and Blidi came down with it, and it was awesome.”
Todd Gurley ground out 46 yards rushing and a touchdown, while Julio Jones added 137 yards receiving against a banged-up Panthers secondary.
The Falcons defense limited the Panthers to two of 10 on third-down conversions to improve to 2-1 since Morris replaced Dan Quinn as head coach.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule said it felt like Bridgewater was constantly under duress.
“We had a hard time blocking their front,” Rhule said. “We weren’t able to get our receivers involved. We were two of 10 on third downs and we can’t live like that.”
Bridgewater tried to spur Carolina to a comeback in front of a sparse crowd of 5,240 due to the COVID-19 pandemic after Koo missed an extra point that would have made it a two-possession game.
Bridgewater, who was knocked out of the game for two possessions with a neck injury following a late hit by Charles Harris — one that resulted in him being ejected — took over with the Panthers down by eight points with less than three minutes to play.
He completed a 35-yard strike to D.J. Moore on third and 18 to move the Panthers into Falcons territory, but his final pass was easily picked.
Bridgewater was limited to 176 yards passing as the Panthers (3-5) lost their third straight game without injured Christian McCaffrey.
“I don’t think any of us played real well tonight,” Rhule said of Bridgewater’s performance.
“Tough loss and we have to find ways to finish the game,” Bridgewater said. “That can’t be the common thing around here — coming up short.”
The Falcons avenged a 23-16 loss to Carolina 18 days previously in which Bridgewater threw for 313 yards and two scores, while Mike Davis piled up 149 yards rushing.
Davis was held to 77 yards this time on a wet field where players routinely swapped cleats to adapt to the changing conditions.
Jones did not play in the first game, but he was a huge difference in this one, setting the tone by hauling in two catches for 52 yards on the game’s first two plays.
Playing against a Panthers secondary that was already without two starters, then lost another when Donte Jackson injured his toe in the first half, proved to be easy pickings for Jones.
“It’s fun, no question about it,” Ryan said of having Jones in the lineup. “The way we started the game is when we’re at our best, play-action pass. I hope it’s the start of something. I really feel like, although we’re 2-6, we’ve been in some tight ones.”
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