Panthers rally to subdue Falcons
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Most of the past week involved discussion about the Carolina Panthers' offense after a trade of the team's top receiver.
The defense spoke up Sunday afternoon.
The Panthers blanked the Atlanta Falcons for most of the final three quarters in a 20-17 victory at Bank of America Stadium.
"It's just stuff you need," Panthers safety Kurt Coleman said of defensive stops. "Those were momentum swings and we were able to deliver for our offense. We made a couple key (plays) and were able to lock down."
Christian McCaffrey and Cam Newton scored on touchdown runs as the Panthers (6-3) wiped out an early 10-0 hole to win for the second week in a row.
Atlanta (4-4) had a chance when regaining possession at its own 21-yard line with 2:18 to play. Instead, the Falcons lost 3 yards and turned the ball over on downs.
"It's just pride around here," defensive tackle Kawann Short said. "You just have to step up as a defense. That's what we do around here."
Newton completed 13 of 24 passes for 137 yards. He was the game's leading rusher with 86 yards on nine carries.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed 24 of 38 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns.
"We've got to be a lot better across the board," Ryan said. "Those little things when you're really doing some good things and don't capitalize."
The Falcons could have closed a 20-10 gap with less than 8 1/2 minutes to play. Ryan's fourth-down pass from the Carolina 39 was dropped near the back of the end zone by receiver Julio Jones without a Carolina defender even in the end zone.
Ryan said there was no sense dwelling on that play.
"Forget it, let's move on to the next one," he said. "(Jones) has made more plays in this league than probably anybody."
On Atlanta's next possession, it worked quickly on a seven-play, 92-yard drive that culminated with Ryan's 19-yard touchdown pass to running back Tevin Coleman with 3:25 remaining.
During the second and third quarters combined, the Falcons picked up a total of four first downs. They finished with six second-half first downs.
It was Carolina's first game since a somewhat stunning trade of receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills. The Panthers didn't exactly light it up on offense with 330 total yards, but the stingy defense did the job.
Carolina built a 20-10 lead on Graham Gano field goals of 31 and 45 yards on the team's first two possessions of the second half, giving the Panthers 20 straight points.
The Panthers scored twice in the final two minutes of the first half for a 14-10 lead.
"It's huge to score before the half," Panthers safety Mike Adams said. "Definitely a momentum shift."
Carolina had little spunk until stopping the Falcons on fourth-and-1 at the Panthers' 35 with 4:30 to play in the half. Two 15-yard penalties on Atlanta put the Panthers in position for McCaffrey's 4-yard touchdown play on a pitch from Newton.
Two plays later, Adams picked off Ryan and his 40-yard return put the Panthers at the Atlanta 31 with 1:15 left in the half.
"They ran that play earlier and he was open," Adams said. "I knew they were going to come back to that play and I was going to jump on that."
Newton's 5-yard scramble gave the Panthers the lead with 23 seconds to play before the half.
Earlier, Jones gained 34 yards on a pass play on the game's first snap. That resulted in Matt Bryant's 53-yard field goal.
Atlanta's Mohamed Sanu caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Ryan with 3:30 to play in the first quarter to complete an eight-play, 61-yard drive.
Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart fumbled twice in Atlanta territory in the first quarter, the first one recovered by safety Keanu Neal and the second one caused by Neal.
NOTES: The Panthers snapped a three-game skid in the series, though Atlanta leads the series 27-18. ... Panthers K Graham Gano has made 19 of 20 field-goal attempts this season, adding two successful boots Sunday. ... Carolina backup TE Chris Manhertz was placed in the concussion protocol in the first half. ... WR Brenton Bersin, who rejoined the Panthers during the week, was activated for the game. ... Atlanta LB Vic Beasley Jr. had one sack, pushing his total to 19.5 since 2016 for the second most in the NFC. ... The Falcons are home next Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. ... The Panthers' next game comes on Monday, Nov. 13, against visiting Miami.