By Jim Morrison
CHARLOTTE – Sparked by two touchdowns in the final 1:55 of the first half, the Carolina Panthers (6-3) overcame a 10-0 deficit and then held on in the second half to defeat the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons (4-4) in a key NFC South Division showdown before a crowd of 73,778 at Bank of America Stadium Sunday afternoon.
The two touchdowns in the final 1:55 of the opening half marked the first time in their 23-year history that the Panthers scored multiple touchdowns in the final two minutes of a half.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who rushed for a team-high 86 yards and a touchdown on nine attempts, put Carolina ahead 14-10 at halftime with a nine-yard scoring run with :23 seconds remaining until intermission.
Newton’s touchdown-run came 1:32 after rookie running back Christian McCaffrey picked up his first rushing touchdown on the year on a four-yard scamper off a pitch from Newton. McCaffrey finished the day with 66 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. The rookie first-round pick also caught five passes for 28 yards.
In a week that the Panthers traded his former No.1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills, Newton completes 13-of-24 passes for 137 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
Devin Funchess, who played a physical game, was Newton’s top target on the day with seven. Funchess had five catches for 86 yards (many after the catch), including a long of 33-yards.
Trailing 10-0 with 4:35 remaining until intermission, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis stuffed Falcons running back Devonta Freeman on a 4th down and 1 at the Carolina 35-yard line to ignite the comeback surge that saw the Panthers take the lead into the locker-room at halftime.
Panthers safety Mike Adams was also instrumental in Carolina’s first-half comeback as he recorded his second interception in as many games to give the Panthers another huge momentum shift. Adams picked off a ball meant for tight end Austin Hooper and returned it 40 yards to set up Newton’s go-ahead touchdown.
Carolina went on to score 20 unanswered points as kicker Graham Gano added field goals of 31 and 45 yards in the third quarter.
Atlanta had a golden opportunity to cut into the Carolina lead with 8:52 remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, who became the first receiver to have a 100-yard game against the Panthers’ defense in 2017, bobbled and dropped a Matt Ryan pass on a 4th and 7 play in the end zone.
“Everybody gets a break once a while, don’t we?” coach Ron Rivera said.
Atlanta later went on 92-yard scoring drive in two-minutes to come within three points of Carolina with 3:31 to play as Ryan hit running back Tevin Coleman with a 19-yard scoring pass.
Following a three and out by the Panthers’ offense, Carolina’s defense held Ryan and the Falcons offense on four consecutive plays to get the ball back on downs and seal the win.
The Panthers will be in action next Monday night when they play host the Dolphins on Monday Night Football. The Falcons will play host to the Dallas Cowboys.
- Today’s game was the 45th contest between the Panthers and Falcons.
- With the win, Carolina is now 18-27 against Atlanta all-time and 12-11 at home against the Falcons.
- The win snapped a three-game Falcons win streak in the rivalry.
NO 100 YARD RUSHERS
- Carolina held Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman to just 46 yards rushing.
- It marked the 13th-straight game that Carolina has gone without allowing a 100-yard rusher, dating back to last season. It is tied for the second-longest such streak in the NFL.
- Only once before in franchise history (2002), have the Panthers gone nine games to start a season without giving up a 100-yard rusher.
- Cam Newton ran for a season-high 86 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. He had a 34-yard rush in the first half.
- Newton’s game tied for his fourth-best rushing performance of his career. Three of his top five rushing games have come against Atlanta.
- Newton has now led the team in rushing in four straight contests.
- Newton’s 86 yards rushing are the most by a quarterback in a game this season. He leads all quarterbacks with 341 yards rushing this season.
- Carolina ran for 201 yards rushing as a team, the most since a 204-yard effort against Philadelphia (10/25/15).
- The Panthers have rushed for over 100 yards in six games this season, boasting a 4-2 record in those games.
- The Panthers are 46-23 when rushing for over 100 yards over the last five seasons.
MCCAFFREY GETS MOVING ON THE GROUND
- Christian McCaffrey scored his first rushing TD of the season, a four-yard pitch in the second quarter. It marked McCaffrey’s third touchdown in the last five weeks.
- McCaffrey tallied a career-best 66 rushing yards, including a career-long rush of 17 yards.
THIRD AND FOURTH DOWN STOPS
- The Panthers defense entered the game ranked fifth in the NFL on third-down efficiency.
- Carolina held Atlanta to 4-12 on third down and 0-3 on fourth down. The Panthers have held their last three opponents to only four third-down conversions each.
- The Panthers have now held opponents to 4-15 (28.6 percent) on fourth down this year, ranking sixth in the NFL.
MARIO KEEPS GETTING SACKS
- Mario Addison now has 14.5 sacks in his last 16 games played after tallying a sack against Atlanta.
- Addison ranks third in the NFL in sacks over the last 16 games.
- He has 6.5 sacks this season, ranking second on the team.
ADAMS PICKS AGAIN
- Mike Adams made his second interception in as many games, setting up a Panthers touchdown right before half.
- Adams now has 14 interceptions since 2014. He is tied with Kurt Coleman for fourth-most in the NFL over that span.
- The Panthers had a rushing touchdown by McCaffrey with 1:55 remaining in the first half. After an interception and 40-yard return by Adams, Newton had a rushing touchdown with 23 seconds left in the half to erase a 10-0 Atlanta lead.
- It marked the first time that Carolina has scored two offensive touchdowns in the final two minutes of a half in franchise history.
- The Panthers are now 6-0 when leading at halftime.
- Through nine weeks, Carolina has had five games decided by less than seven points after defeating Atlanta 20-17.
- The Panthers are 4-1 this year in games decided by less than a touchdown.
PALARDY PINS INSIDE THE 10
- Punter Michael Palardy made five punts for a net average of 47.2 yards and a long of 57 yards.
- He put three punts inside the 10-yard line after placing three inside the 10 last week.