CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Eleven days ago, the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers played one of the NFL’s most thrilling games of the year. The back-and-forth, overtime affair in Atlanta included a Hail Mary, a costly excessive celebration penalty, missed kicks and a 37-34 Falcons victory.
This one didn’t necessarily have as much action or excitement.
The Panthers raced out to a 13-0 lead and kept the Falcons at arm’s distance on their way to a 25-15 victory on Thursday at Bank of America Stadium. Running back D’Onta Foreman rushed 31 times for 130 yards and a touchdown, while receiver Laviska Shenault took a backward pass 41 yards to the house for the first Carolina touchdown of the game.
The Falcons, meanwhile, squandered an opportunity to secure sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
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Foreman ran all over the Falcons once again. Two Sundays ago, he went for 118 yards on 26 rushes and scored three times. Carolina relied on him even more in the team’s second matchup of the season, and Foreman ran tough all night to power the Falcons to victory.
Panthers pass rush
Atlanta quarterback Marcus Mariota had black jerseys surrounding him all night and the ability of the Panthers’ front-seven to generate pressure was a primary reason behind the Carolina victory.
Frankie Luvu and Marquis Haynes had two sacks each, and Carolina finished with five. The Panthers had an additional nine hits on Mariota.
The interim head coach had his team prepared for the short week and the coaching staff executed a game plan — especially on the defensive side of the ball — that kept Atlanta off-balance all night. The ex-Arizona Cardinals head coach is now 2-4 since Matt Rhule was fired on Oct. 10.
Panthers special teams
The punters carried more weight in a game that didn’t feature a ton of offense. Atlanta’s Bradley Pinion was inconsistent at best, but the Panthers’ Johnny Hekker rose to the occasion. Hekker averaged 43.2 yards on his five punts. Two of those boots were downed within the five-yard line. The field position battle significantly hindered the Falcons offense.
Eddie Pineiro, who missed a potential game-winning extra point in regulation and a game-ending field goal in overtime during the last matchup against Atlanta, was 4-for-4 on field goals. He did miss an extra point, but Pineiro’s kicks from 46, 49, 40 and 37 yards were part of a bounceback performance.
They were just doing their jobs, but flags hit the turf on what felt like every other play. Carolina was penalized 10 times for 89 yards, while Atlanta was called for four fouls (37 yards).
The conditions were far from ideal, as a drizzle hovered over the city all afternoon; the rain picked up before the game and in the second half.
That made throwing the ball even more difficult for the Panthers’ P.J. Walker and Mariota. For offenses that ranked 30th and 25th in the league, respectively, entering this game, a slippery ball and playing field was an unwelcome development.
Mariota finished 19 of 30 for 186 yards, with nearly half coming on the last Atlanta touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that made it a seven-point game. The Panthers’ first-round pick from 2021, cornerback Jaycee Horn, picked him off in the first half.
Walker went 10-for-16 for 108 yards and didn’t have to do much other than put the pigskin in Foreman’s belly.
The No. 4 overall pick a year ago, it’s becoming obvious that Pitts will not thrive in the current offense — or at least with Mariota as quarterback. He had one catch before the final 3:30 of the game and finished with two catches for 28 yards.
That’s slightly better than last week — he had two catches for 27 yards against the Los Angeles Chargers in a 17-14 loss.
This game looked ugly on the schedule at the season’s outset and the first half of the year did little to raise that expectation.
Until then, somebody please give Al Michaels a hug. The legendary broadcaster sounds agonized during these games sometimes. At least he’s one of us.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.