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Week 16 Game Recap: Atlanta Falcons 33, Carolina Panthers 16

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Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta scored on back shoulder fade to rookie tight end Joshua Perkins on the first drive and Atlanta picked off Cam Newton on Carolina's first drive to get into Carolina territory twice on consecutive Atlanta possessions to begin the game, but Perkins--a rookie from Washington--committed an after-play penalty that put Atlanta into a 3rd and 21 and resulted in a field goal and a 10-point lead rather than an extended drive inside Carolina's 25. Ryan routinely earned or bought additional time in the pocket to find his second and third reads, beginning 10-for-10 in the first quarter. Ryan hit 10 different receivers during the first 20 minutes of the game, including two rookie tight ends, one of them recent practice squad promotion D.J. Tialavea for a one-yard score on a flush to the right to go up 20-3. Atlanta picked off Newton over the middle on a crossing route late in the half. Cornerback Jalen Collins read the crossing route from the opposite side and undercut the ball, taking it up the sideline to the Carolina 21. Ryan drove Atlanta inside the 10 in the mid third quarter with multiple passes of less than 15 yards culminating in a third field goal and a 23-6 lead. When Carolina got within 7 points in the fourth quarter, Atlanta answered with a 3rd and 21 pass up the left sideline to Coleman against a poor zone defensive effort and followed with a 55-yard touchdown run by Coleman against an even worse tackling effort to seal the game 30-16.

Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton's game clearly requires a reboot of sorts. A combination of poor decision-making, sloppy footwork and inaccurate passes had the Panthers offense stuck in a mire of ineptitude early that they couldn't recover from. Newton was guilty of missing both Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin on routine touchdown passes. His offensive line let him down at times, but the protection was ideal at times; Newton simply didn't pull the trigger. Jonathan Stewart was wiped out by a game script that had the Panthers in comeback mode from the beginning. Benjamin was the bright spot for Carolina. His touchdown catch and solid play in the second half will have Ron Rivera smiling. Greg Olsen was held in check as the Panthers offense simply lacked the consistency to get him going.

Atlanta Falcons

QB Matt Ryan, 63 offensive snaps, Pass: 27 - 33 - 277 - 2 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 2 - 9 - 0
He hit Jones on a quick slant to begin the game and two plays later avoided a strip attempt from the right edge to find Freeman while under pressure and Freeman earned the first down on the dump-off during this first drive. Ryan delivered a back shoulder fade that arrived perfectly over Thomas Davis and under the safety help for the first touchdown. Perkins, a rookie from Washington, made a good catch with his hands between the two defenders tight to him and he fell into the end zone from the two. It was the throw outside Davis' coverage and under the safety that made this play so good. Ryan avoided pressure after a good bit of time in the pocket on a first down after an Atlanta interception of Cam Newton and the QB flushed right and found Julio Jones at the 28 of Carolina on a crossing route for a first down. Ryan found Robinson in the middle of the field with his third read for a first down near midfield to begin the third drive. A double-A Gap look forced the line to squeeze inside and the outside pressure arrived to force Ryan to slide and hit the outlet to Patrick DiMarco for enough yards to give Atlanta a 51-yard field goal on the following play and a 13-point lead. Ryan got sacked by Shaq Thompson on an LB blitz past FB Patrick DiMarco on the fourth series. Ryan found 8 receivers within the first 20 minutes of this game. He took a hit hitting Gabriel on a slant while hit in the chest from the Carolina 5 to the 1. Ryan got sacked on an A-gap safety blitz past Alex Mack who missed his protection assignment. Ryan got discombobulated in the pocket on a 3rd and 3 inside the 15 of Carolina and had a settling for a short gain. The resulting field goal attempt was blocked. Ryan was strip-sacked by Kony Ealy past Jake Matthews inside the Carolina 8 but Atlanta recovered and added another 3 points. Ryan found Jones on a deep cross to begin the fourth quarter, but underthrew it and let the cornerback rake the ball away. He was sacked on the following play up the middle. Ryan found Coleman for a gain of over 30 yards on 3rd and 21 and set up a 55-yard TD by Coleman on an outside zone play.

RB Devonta Freeman, 34 offensive snaps, Rush: 13 - 53 - 0, Rec: 8 - 35 - 0 (8 targets)
Freeman got the first down on a second and short run around right end for seven yards. He pushed ahead for a gain of four yards between the tackles on his second run on the following play to set up 2nd and 6. Freeman took a dump-off on the third straight play heading to him, earning the first down.He gained 10 yards on an I formation run up the middle on a cutback off the fullback's pancake of the linebacker. He followed with a stuff for a loss of seven against Jake Matthews. He earned a pair of four-yard gains off right tackle early in the second quarter. Freeman earned 9 yards off left guard with a dip downhill and inside the linebackers with 8:00 left to reach the Carolina 8. Freeman beat Thomas Davis in the right flat on third down to set up first and goal from the five wth 6:33 in the half. He earned a pair of short passes after the Jalen Collins INT with a couple of minutes left to get inside the Carolina 15. Good second and third efforts up the middle for five yards during the mid-third quarter where the initial crease was tight. Freeman took a 3rd and 1 shotgun run and bounced the play to the backside and made a second bounce on the short corner for a 10-yard gain and kept Atlanta in a four-minute offense.

RB Tevin Coleman, 23 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 90 - 1, Rec: 3 - 45 - 0 (3 targets)
Coleman earned two through a tight crease and lowered his pads to push at the line of scrimmage. Coleman earned a throw-back dump off to the left edge on the weak side of a two tight end set and hit the RB on a swing pass for 13-14 yards. He earned seven yards on 2nd and 16 on a delay up the middle through a nice crease at the line. He fell to the ground on a screen pass inside the 15 of Carolina when he slipped cutting downhill at the 13. He gained a yard on a short run to left end. Coleman gave up a sack on Matt Ryan early in the fourth quarter, but he caught a route up the left sideline on 3rd and 21 in a wide open space for a gain of over 30 yards. Coleman followed up with a 55-yard run up the right sideline on an outside zone play for a game-sealing TD for a 30-13 lead. Carolina's effort to tackle were criticized roundly by the TV staff and the angles were indeed back and the effort to dive and wrap was not there. He followed up with a toss up the left sideline for 15 midway through the final quarter.

WR Julio Jones, 39 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 60 - 0 (7 targets)
He led off the game with a quick slant against tight coverage and a nice release that showed he could make a cut on that foot. He left the field with a slight limp at the end of the second drive but returned to earn a target on a sail route, but a defender held Jones' leg during his release on a 1st and 10 play action pass to begin the third drive. Jones hopped a bit off the field with 13:00 in the second quarter and was not on the field for 3rd and 2 and Ryan got sacked on a blitz with Jones out. The receiver was covered step for step and pinned up the right sideline on 2nd and 10 with 10:30 in the half and forced a throw out of bounds. Jones earned his third catch on a deep slant on a diving grab of a low throw. Jones got 11 yards on a 3rd and 1 pass on a stick route from the slot in the third quarter against a zone defense. Jones had a deep cross raked by the trailng CB to begin the fourth quarter.

WR Mohamed Sanu, 45 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 56 - 0 (4 targets)
He got a first down from middle trips left on a dig route with a nice sail outside to get across the middle for over 15 yards and took them near midfield. Sanu earned aover 20 yards to get inside Carolina's 20 on a deep cross two plays later. A quick out for a nine-yard gain with 8:00 in game.

WR Taylor Gabriel, 28 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 15 - 0 (4 targets)
He gained a few yards up the right flat on a 3rd and 21 WR screen during the second possession. He caught a quick slant to the 1 on 2nd and goal from the 5, setting up a Ryan scramble right and touchdown to the tight end D.J. Tialavea.

WR Aldrick Robinson, 23 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 15 - 0 (1 targets)
Ryan found Robinson in the middle of the field with his third read for a first down near midfield to begin the third drive.

TE Levine Toilolo, 48 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 10 - 0 (1 targets)
He earned eight yards in the right flat for a first down to get past midfield during the first drive.

TE D.J. Tialavea
The 10th receiver to earn a catch within the first 20 minutes of the game, Tialavea, a practice squad player, worked open a yard past the goal line on a 3rd and goal scramble from Matt Ryan and throw across his body for the one-yard score. It was Tialavea's first game as a pro and his entire family was in Carolina for the game after his father's recent death.

Carolina Panthers

QB Cam Newton, 69 offensive snaps, Pass: 18 - 43 - 198 - 1 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 8 - 36 - 0
A scattershot Cam Newton was unable to carry forward the positive momentum from the performance against the Redskins, instead regressing in a putrid display at home. It was the usual inconsistencies from Newton: poor footwork, late throws, decision making. The offense couldn't establish a rhythm in the early stages, and that seemed to hurt Newton's confidence. What would have dented it even more was a poor interception in the first half. Targeting Ed Dickson on a deep dig route, Newton failed to see Bryan Poole sinking underneath the throw, reading the eyes of the quarterback. However, it appeared as though the pass would not have been close to Dickson anyway, such was its inaccuracy. At times Newton was afforded decent pass protection, although even then his footwork was spotty and sloppy. He made good decisions to throw the ball away and did not take any unnecessary sacks, but the line let him down at times in the second half with immediate pressure up the gut. Newton was guilty of missing a wide open Greg Olsen in the end zone for what should have been a touchdown; he was too late as he rolled out to the right, and his hesitancy allowed the Falcons defenders to close on the intended target. The very next play saw Newton sail a pass to Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone. The no-huddle offense kick-started things in the second half, but it would prove to be a false dawn as Newton tossed his second interception. On this occasion he seemed to telegraph his intentions, and the zone coverage DB read his eyes and broke on the throw. Even so, there did not appear to be a receiver on the end of the pass had the DB not been there. He saved his game with a beautiful touchdown pass to Benjamin on a nine route, lofting it high for his behemoth receiver to attack. It was the lone bright spot in a thoroughly forgettable game for the quarterback.

RB Jonathan Stewart, 40 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 50 - 0, Rec: 1 - 2 - 0 (2 targets)
With the Panthers in comeback mode throughout, Jonathan Stewart was simply not afforded the opportunity to get into a rhythm. A pass-happy approach from the Panthers meant it was often Fozzy Whittaker or Mike Tolbert and not Stewart in the game on obvious passing downs. Even when Stewart was given carries, he was often met at the line of scrimmage by an aggressive Falcons front seven. Stewart had a nice run out of the read option as he bounced off the right side for 20 yards, but overall it was a forgettable outing.

RB Fozzy Whittaker, 18 offensive snaps, Rush: 3 - 30 - 0, Rec: 1 - 14 - 0 (1 targets)
In a quiet outing for Fozzy Whittaker - apart from kick returns, where he showed off his burst and quickness his best play came on a quick toss into the left flat when he weaved between blockers and defenders for a sizeable gain.

WR Kelvin Benjamin, 52 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 63 - 1 (8 targets)
Perhaps in an effort to quell the fiery criticism directed at him in recent weeks, Kelvin Benjamin responded with a terrific outing. Despite the struggles of Cam Newton, who consistently airmailed his targets and left his receivers plenty of work to do, Benjamin made the best of it. He bossed the middle of the field early with a lovely catch in traffic. He will have been disappointed in his technique on a lofted sideline pass; with the DB in trail position, Benjamin tried to haul in the football with one hand rather than attack it with both. A subsequent end zone target was fired over Benjamin's head, but he managed to secure a touchdown catch in the second half. It was a beautiful lofted pass from Newton that allowed Benjamin to execute a subtle push-off on his defender, reach up above his frame and come down with safely. His best play of the day came on a simple shallow crossing pattern. Catching the ball in stride, Benjamin unleashed a wicked stiff arm to knock a defender on his backside before trucking up field and spinning away from another tackler for a nice gain.

WR Ted Ginn, 56 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 29 - 0 (9 targets)
Ted Ginn Jr. endured a difficult outing as the Panthers passing attack sputtered from the outset. Cam Newton's accuracy played a big part in the inability of the Carolina offense to find a rhythm; every promising pass was followed by a pass sailed over his receivers' heads. Ginn was limited to short receptions as the Falcons were content to give up the small chunks. Newton looked for Ginn deep at times but was consistently trigger shy as the Falcons secondary marshalled him well.

WR Corey Brown, 46 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 12 - 0 (2 targets)
Corey Brown played a larger role than he typically would, what with the Panthers in comeback mode from the first few minutes of this game. He will feel aggrieved about a defensive pass interference penalty that was not called after he beat the Falcons secondary deep. At the moment of truth, Brown's feet appeared to get tangled up with those of an Atlanta defensive back, but there might have been contact too. He was unlucky not to get a touchdown after a deep shot from Cam Newton ended up being broken up by Devin Funchess in the end zone; Brown was in his vicinity and ready to haul in the heaved pass.

WR Devin Funchess, 15 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 9 - 0 (5 targets)
Devin Funchess had a forgettable game as the offense seemed to trip over itself constantly in a listless effort. An early target off play action on a slant route wasn't exactly where it needed to be for Funchess to secure the catch. A similar pass pattern in the red zone was broken up by the Falcons DB; Funchess almost managed to tip toe the back line of the end zone and secure the football, but he ran out of room. He was forced to leave the game in the second half with an injury and did not return.

TE Greg Olsen, 40 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 59 - 0 (12 targets)
It was a memorable occasion for Greg Olsen on a personal milestone basis, as he became the first tight end in NFL history with three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. However, an all-too-typical down day from the offense meant he was limited to short catches over the middle as the Falcons' comfortable lead allowed them to play conservatively. Any time Olsen was targeted downfield the pass was either too high due to a scattershot Cam Newton's accuracy, or there was a miscommunication between quarterback and tight end. Olsen briefly left the game after making a routine catch, but was held in check by a combination of the offensive struggles and having to stay in and block to cover up the offensive line's issues.