3-0 Falcons to face a stumbling Carolina squad

Team looking to get the running game going early and often

The Falcons had little use of the running game in their 27-3 victory of the San Diego Chargers as Matt Ryan continues to be the hottest QB in the NFL with a 114.0 Rating and eight touchdowns in three games.

“When Matt is playing with confidence, I think it permeates around the locker room,” coach Mike Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of guys playing with confidence right now.”

A continued confidence will be a key to going 4-0 and the Carolina Panthers are just the team to get them there as the Panthers have lost the last four meetings against the Falcons and Carolina QB Cam Newton is coming off a terrible 36-7 performance against the NY Giants.

But nobody is being harder on themselves than Newton.

“Who wants to support something that puts on a performance of embarrassment,” Newton said after his three-interception performance. “That’s what this was. If I was a fan of the Carolina Panthers I would be holding my head down in shame of the product that was out there.”

If Matt Ryan gets both the running game and the passing game going, the Falcons may be unstoppable.

“It is a divisional game, but the truth is, your biggest game is the one you are about to play,” Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera said. “I guess as far as the record goes and being in our division, yes it means a lot, it is a big game.”

Tickets are still available for this pivotal division match up.



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Jones Catches 2 TDs, Falcons Beat Panthers 31-23

He found it against the Carolina Panthers.

Jones hauled in fourth-quarter touchdown passes of 17 and 75 yards from Matt Ryan and the Falcons overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the Panthers 31-23 Sunday.

Jones bounced back after a rough outing against Houston last week in which he had two drops, including one of Atlanta’s final plays, and two costly penalties in a 17-10 loss to the Texans.

“He’s had some plays I’m sure he’d like to have done better, but that’s him maturing, and understanding what the NFL is all about,” Ryan said. “Sometimes, you’re not going to make the plays you want to make, but it’s all about how you respond to those situations. He did a great job for us today, but it doesn’t surprise me, because that’s been his deal the whole year.

“He’s worked real hard, and has been into it, and has done everything you could ask for from a rookie.”

Ryan finished with 320 yards passing and his four TDs matched a career high. As important, Ryan kept the Falcons (8-5) in playoff position in the wild-card race with three games left.

“We approached it as the first of four legs,” Ryan said. “We’ve knocked the first leg out and now we’ve got to move on and keep going.”

Atlanta closes the season with Jacksonville at home, at New Orleans and at home against Tampa Bay.

Ryan’s comeback shouldn’t surprise anyone — he seems to have Carolina’s number.

The first time the teams met, the Falcons trailed by three points in the fourth quarter but rallied for a 31-17 win on Oct. 16.

Down 16 points at the half, Ryan earned his “Matty Ice” nickname.

He came out of the locker room poised and calm but firing on all cylinders in the second half, throwing for 232 yards and three scores.

Jones, who finished with 104 yards receiving, was quiet for most of the game but caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to give the Falcons a 24-23 lead early in the fourth quarter. After Olindo Mare missed a field goal that would have put the Panthers up by two, Ryan found Jones across this middle for a 75-yard, catch-and-run touchdown with 4:17 left in the game.

Carolina’s final drive ended with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-5 from the Atlanta 27.

“He just kept his poise,” Jones said of Ryan. “He kept it positive on the sideline, encouraged us to keep it going, keep it going. Eventually, we did, and we came up with a W at the end.”

Looking to push the tempo, the Falcons went to a no-huddle offense quite a bit in the second half and tried to take advantage of a matchup with reserve cornerback Darius Butler on Jones.

“We got a look where we felt we’d had a pretty good matchup on the backside with Julio (Jones),” Ryan said.

Both of Jones’ touchdown catches came against Butler.

“You know, they were coming at me a few times with Julio,” Butler said. “They like that matchup. I made some plays early and he made some big plays late. You’ve got to hold up. That’s the name of the game. You got to finish it out.”

For the Panthers (4-9), it was more of the same, marking the sixth time this season they’ve lost after being ahead or tied in the fourth quarter.

Cam Newton started strong, completing 9 of 14 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns in the first half as the Panthers built a 23-7 lead. But Newton was intercepted twice in the second half, including once on a poor decision when he tried a shovel pass to running back Jonathan Stewart with his non-throwing left hand as he was falling to the ground. The result was a gift interception for Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson.

Ryan cashed in two plays later as running back Marquizz Rodgers beat linebacker James Anderson for a 31-yard touchdown.

A glum Newton called his decision “terrible.”

“I tried to get the ball to Stew and tried to avoid the sack,” he said. “I should have just ate the ball and taken the sack. Both interceptions were my fault. If you expect to win games you have to protect the football and I did a poor job of that today.”

Despite their struggles in the second half, the Panthers looked poised to regain the lead midway through the fourth quarter, but Newton couldn’t hook up with Greg Olsen in the back of the end zone and the Panthers settled for a 36-yard field goal attempt. But Mare, just as he’d done with a chance to tie the game late at home against Minnesota, pushed a very makeable go-ahead field goal wide left.

Coach Ron Rivera said he plans to sit down with Mare to talk about what’s wrong.

“It’s the second one he’s hooked left, pretty much from almost the same area (on the field),” Rivera said of Mare, who was given a four-year, $12 million contract this offseason.

The Falcons seized the momentum.

Two plays later, on second-and-11, Jones caught a pass over the middle and broke through a tackle by Butler and Sherrod Martin and raced 75 yards to the end zone.

The Falcons outscored the Panthers 24-0 in the second half.

“We just brought a different attitude out there in the second half,” safety Thomas DeCoud said. “They caught us off guard early with a couple of things they didn’t show us on film. In the second half, we bit down and did what we needed to get done.”

Notes: The Falcons are 21-0 when Ryan has a quarterback rating of 100 or more. … Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith became the 35th player in NFL history to reach 10,000 yards receiving for his career on a 16-yard reception in the second quarter.

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White Looks to Be More Than a Decoy for Falcons

“This is not my forte,” he said Wednesday, breaking into that familiar smile. “This is not something I like or desire.”

Mind you, White isn’t complaining.

The Falcons (1-1) are coming off an emotional win over Philadelphia, and he did catch a short pass in the back of the end zone for their first score of the game. But his final numbers — three catches, 23 yards — were definitely not in White’s normal range.

He’s had four straight seasons with more than 1,000 yards. He’s coming off the best year for a receiver in franchise history, putting up 1,389 yards with an NFL-leading 115 receptions.

Through two games this year: 11 catches for 84 yards, his longest reception covering just 17 yards.

“You’ve just got to take what they give you,” White insisted. “We haven’t hit any deep ones yet, but they’ll come. And when they come, they’ll come in bunches.”

Maybe they’ll come on Sunday. Or maybe he’ll have to wait a little longer.

The Falcons are heading to Tampa Bay for their first division game in the rugged NFC South. Last year, the Buccaneers (1-1) did a good job shutting down White, holding him to just four catches for 49 yards in their first meeting — his least-productive game of the season.

That’s OK with White, as long as the results are the same. The Falcons won both matchups a year ago, with White doing a little better in the second game (seven catches, 74 yards).

“I can’t complain. We’re winning,” White said. “As long as we keep winning, then everything will be fine, man. Obviously, that’s what we’re here for. We want to win games and get back to the playoffs.”

Coming into the season, there was plenty of speculation that White might have to accept a bit of a lesser role after the Falcons traded up in the draft to nab Alabama star Julio Jones.

While Atlanta is intent on taking advantage of Jones’ immense talent, this isn’t a case where White’s numbers have dropped off because of the rookie.

Rather, the first two opponents, Chicago and Philadelphia, have doubled up on the wideouts and dropped safeties into coverage, intent of preventing the Falcons from hitting the big play.

It worked for the Bears, who blew out Atlanta 30-12 in the opener and didn’t allow an offensive touchdown. But the Falcons had more success against the Eagles, even though the league’s best trio of cornerbacks again clamped down on the receivers. Jones had only two catches for 29 yards.

With all the attention on White and Jones, the Falcons turned to their other offensive weapons. Namely, tight end Tony Gonzalez (seven catches, 83 yards, two TDs) and running back Michael Turner (21 carries for 114 yards, plus a 32-yard reception).

“That’s the beauty of it,” Gonzalez said. “In the ideal offense, you want to be a good, balanced team where the defense doesn’t know who’s going to get the ball.”

Considering the way the offense played against the Eagles, Gonzalez said it’s only natural to expect Tampa Bay will put more defenders in the box to slow the running game and slant its coverages toward the middle of the field, where the tight end was able to do so much damage.

If that happens, look for White and Jones to finally break loose.

“I’m sure Tampa will have something ready for me,” Gonzalez said. “I would guess they’ll want to take me out of the game, which is fine. Julio is going to have some plays, and Roddy is one of the best receivers in the league. It’s just a matter of time before he explodes like he always does.”

White is ready to shine.

“I hope this is the one where I go out there and catch eight or nine balls for over 100 yards,” he said “That would be a good game for me. I expect to go out there and do a little something.”


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