By: Caleb Johnson
The Falcons came into Sunday’s contest possessing their own destiny. Win, and you are in. However, lose, and your fate lies in the hands of Drew Stanton and the Cardinals to knock off the Seattle Seahawks. Thankfully Matt Bryant’s kicking leg chose option number one. The 42-year-old veteran finished the day 5 of 5 with a long of 56 yards and the Atlanta Falcons squeeze into the playoffs with a 22-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers
Atlanta began their first drive of the day very smooth and relaxed. Matt Ryan found Julio Jones for 13 yards to get the Falcons initial first down. On the following play safety, Mike Adams catches Julio Jones running across the middle and puts shoulder pads to the ribcage. The impact was absolutely brutal, but Julio popped back up and entered the game a few plays later. Atlanta would score first with a 19-yard dump off pass from Ryan to Davante Freeman.
The real head-scratcher of the day was the play of Panthers QB Cam Newton. The 6-foot-5 Atlanta native appeared to forget how to execute his number one job: throw the ball. Newton started the game 0-for-9 before completing his next seven passes in a row. It would be the first time in his career to ever start a game with five straight incompletions. He would finish 14 of 34 for 180 yards and three crucial picks all in the second half.
The first interception by Ricardo Allen was intended for slot receiver Brenton Bersin. The fourth-year receiver from Charlotte cut in on the route, but Newton threw outside and made the catch for Allen rather easy. The second interception was once again miscommunication with Cam Newton and his receiver. This time it was veteran tight-end Greg Olsen who ran a drag route, but Newton threw high causing Olsen to extend his hand and tip the ball to safety Keanu Neal. Both interceptions ended in points for Atlanta proving to be major keys for the win.
The final pick was just frankly out of desperation. With the game in hand for Atlanta, Newton threw to a heavily covered Devin Funchess. Robert Alford stepped in front of the pass in the end zone essentially wrapping up the win for Atlanta.
The Panthers were held to under 250 yards total on offense while defensively allowing close to 400 yards from the Dirty Birds. The Falcons go into the playoffs as the #6 seed and will face off against the #3 seed Los Angeles Rams January 6th in The Coliseum. NBC will have coverage for the scheduled 8:15 kickoff.