By Craig Allen Brown
Fans and media outlets did not hesitate to drag Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan’s name through the mud after their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
After Ryan’s performance today, the naysayers might want to rethink their assessment of the former regular season MVP.
On Sunday, Ryan threw for two touchdowns and ran for two touchdowns, as the Falcons held off the Carolina Panthers 31-24 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Our execution was better than it had been before,” Ryan said during the post-game press conference. “[I’m] proud of the way the guys worked all week. When we got our chances, we nailed ‘em.”
The Falcons and Panthers were tied at three points early in the second quarter when divisional tension boiled over. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton scrambled on fourth and four, and slid after successfully reaching the first-down marker. Reserve Falcons’ safety Damontae Kazee went low, and collided helmet-to-helmet with Newton. Kazee, who started because of a season-ending injury suffered by starter Keanu Neal, was ejected from the game.
Newton connected with wideout Devin Funchess on his first passing attempt after the sliding incident. His next completion was to Jarius Wright for a five-yard touchdown and a 10-3 Panther lead.
Running back Tevin Coleman made huge contributions for the Falcon offense. On the Falcons’ next drive, his 36-yard scamper moved the ball to the Panthers’ 36-yard line. This set up an 11-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to rookie Calvin Ridley, the first of his career.
Ryan put on a clinic during the first half’s last drive. With just over a minute remaining, Ryan completed five of five passes to five different receivers, including a 30-yard completion to receiver Marvin Hall. Ryan cemented the drive with an eight-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Hooper, giving the Falcons a 17-10 halftime lead.
Early in the third quarter, running back Ito Smith moved the Falcons into good field position with strong back-to-back runs. Coleman ran the ball to the Panthers one-yard line, before Ryan’s quarterback sneak put the Falcons up 24-10.
Newton marched the Panthers down the field at the start of the fourth quarter. He found tight end Ian Thomas for an eight-yard gain to the Falcon three-yard line. His next pass was to wideout Torrey Smith for his second touchdown of the day.
Ryan answered with a 30-yard reception to Hooper. On third and five at the Panthers eight-yard line, when Ryan couldn’t find a receiver, he found the goal line on his second touchdown run of the day. His two rushing touchdowns are the most he has had as a pro, and resulted in a 31-17 Falcon lead.
Down by two scores with 3:52 remaining, Newton connected on five straight passes, the last one a 51-yard bomb to wide receiver DJ Moore, cutting the Falcons’ lead to seven.
After a Matt Bosher punt, the Panthers had 1:48 remaining to tie or take the lead. Newton’s completion to Funchess moved the ball to the Atlanta 26-yard line. However, Newton’s next throw was an incompletion as time expired.
Ryan completed 23 of 28 passes for 272 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Coleman’s 107 rushing yards were the first time the Panthers defense allowed a 100-yard effort in 22 straight games.
Linebackers De’Vondre Campbell and Duke Riley led the Falcons’ defense with nine total tackles each.
Head coach Dan Quinn was pleased with the way that his group bounced back from a tough loss in Philadelphia to open the season. He acknowledged that his team has to continue to improve, but was happy with a big win within the division.
“[I] thought today was a team win,” he said. “[A] number of different guys got involved, both offensively and defensively. I was pleased to see we had balance.”
“It was good to see Cal [receiver Calvin Ridley] get his first touchdown. The way that Sark [offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian] and the guys featured different players in different spots…give credit to them.”\
This article originally appeared in the Atlanta Voice.