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Week 16 Game Recap: Atlanta Falcons 24, Carolina Panthers 10
What you need to know
was on a pitch count today but had a pivotal third-down conversion to get Atlanta to the Carolina three during the first drive. He also finished the drive with a crossing route along the end line to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Calvin Ridley
dropped a pivotal throw in the first half inside the Carolina five but rebounded with a 75-yard score against a busted coverage up the left sideline to begin the second half. Mohamed Sanu
paced the receivers with third-down conversions as a runner and receiver. He also scored on a 44-yard pass in the third quarter. Brian Hill
, subbing for Ito Smith
, earned three fourth quarter runs for over 50 yards but fumbled the ball on one of them attempting to hurdle a defender. Hill earned 60 yards on a run to end the game over the century mark and to seal the contest. Atlantaís defense made three key red zone plays in this game to preserve a lead, including a great interception by defensive end Jack Crawford at the Atlanta goal line at the end of the half. Brian Poole recovered a fumble in the first half and intercepted a third-quarter pass at the Atlanta 16, and Desmond Trufant made two key fourth-quarter pass defenses in the red zone to prevent scores.
With Cam Newton
out of commission, the Panthers turned to backup Taylor Heinicke
. The former Old Dominion quarterback was consistently under duress, Atlanta's pressure packages giving him headaches on his first professional start. Red zone turnovers crippled the offense's chances, with Heinicke committing some rookie-style errors. Christian McCaffrey
set a landmark for receptions for running backs in the losing effort, contributing with bullish running between the tackles and bamboozling moves in space after the catch. Curtis Samuel
stood out with a brave performance, showing good toughness at the catch point, strong hands on 50-50 balls and tenacity. Ian Thomas
caught the lone touchdown pass of the game, leaping high above the defender in coverage to pull down an intentionally tall Heinicke pass.
|QB Matt Ryan, 48 offensive snaps, Pass: 15 - 26 - 239 - 3 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 1 - -1 - 0|
The quarterback leaned on Julio Jones
and Mohamed Sanu
during the first drive, finding them over the middle and in the flats to drive the field, converting a pair of third downs on the way to a touchdown pass in the right corner at the end line to Jones. Ryan had a golden opportunity to earn the lead after Carolina fumbled the ball away at its 10 yard-line to begin its third series, but Ben Garland got beat on the next pay which resulted in a sack fumble of Ryan as he was bringing the ball back to throw. Carolina regained possession and Atlanta missed the opportunity. Ryan found Austin Hooper
on a 32-yard sail route that set up a game-tying field goal after Calvin Ridley
dropped a pass targeted inside the Carolina 5. Ryan got some help from the ground game and Ridley in the third quarter, including a 75-yard touchdown for the lead when Ridley ran past a busted Cover 2. Later in the third quarter, Mohamed Sanu
took an over route for a 44-yard score to pad the lead to 14 points.
|RB Tevin Coleman, 31 offensive snaps, Rush: 10 - 51 - 0 (1 targets)|
He earned seven yards on a toss to left end from a heavy set. He ran into his own man and was limited to two yards to begin the next series. He followed up with six yards into a nice crease off left guard. Coleman earned 20 yards on a nice cut downhill of the center in the middle of the third quarter. Brian Hill
earned more carries as Atlanta preserved a fourth-quarter lead despite a numbe of Falcons three-and-outs.
|RB Brian Hill, 14 offensive snaps, Rush: 8 - 115 - 0 (1 targets)|
He earned a short gain up the middle for two yards in the red zone against no openings in the Carolina defense during the first drive. Once again, Hill got hemmed in up the middle during the drive and had to slowly find a bounce-out for a short gain from the Carolina three to set up a third and goal. He didnít earn more than a yard on a second-down run later in the third quarter while Coleman earned a breather. Hill made a nice bounce to right guard and then cut back against the grain to the left flat and up the sideline for a strong gain but then punched Kareem Jackson with a stiff-arm to the head as he left the boundary. He then had to strong runs up the left side of the line, including a play into the flat where he hurdled a defender. However, he fumbled the ball during the hurdle and Carolina recovered. Atlanta continued using Hill during the following series.
|WR Mohamed Sanu, 32 offensive snaps, Rush: 2 - 29 - 0, Rec: 5 - 81 - 1 (8 targets)|
He converted a third down on the opening drive from a stack formation running a sharp over route and earning another six yards after the catch. Sanu earned 24 yards on a Wildcat keeper that he took up the middle and then bounced ot the sideline around the cornerback to the Carolina 16 later in the drive. On first and goal from the three, he was targeted wide on a fade route. He earned a shallow cross during the second quarter for 5-6 yards to set up a third and two. Sanu earned a target on a hook route early in the third quarter on third down but the defensive back cut off the route to force a punt. He scored on an over route where he slowed down just enough to avoid the coverage on the other side of the field and turned the reception up field for a 44-yard score. Sanu earned seven yards early in the fourth quarter on another crossing route against tight coverage
|WR Julio Jones, 24 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 28 - 1 (5 targets)|
Jones earned 11 yards to begin the game on a short pass to the right flat and then was out of the game for the next two plays after facing physical play on the tackle. He was in and out of the lineup for the rest of the drive. He caught a second target during that drive for nine yards as the slot receiver on a settle route under the zone. He earned 12 yards on third down on a crossing route and turned up field on Luke Kuechly to the Carolina three. He scored on a route crossing the end line to the right corner of the end zone on third down to culminate Atlantaís first drive. Jones earned a deep post in the middle of the third quarter but Ryan led Jones too far.
|WR Calvin Ridley, 29 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 90 - 1 (5 targets)|
Ryan targeted Ridley while under pressure on an in-breaking route and Ridley took a late hit by Eric Reid and Ridley jammed his leg into the defender while sliding to the ground. Ridley dropped a tough third-and-two pass between a pair of defenders inside the Carolina five. The ball went through his hands, bounced off his chest, and then he took the hit in the back. Calvin Ridley
made his first catch streaking up the left sideline for a 75-yard score against a busted Cover 2 zone on the first play of the second half. He gained a few yards on a shallow route on the next drive. He earned a first down on a short hook and dove for the first down on the drive after that.
On the third play of the game, he ran the corner post against tight coverage that knocked the play-action target away.
He earned a slant on a third and four early in the fourth quarter but James Bradberry broke up the pass from trail coverage and forced a punt.
|TE Austin Hooper, 31 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 36 - 0 (2 targets)|
Ryan found Hooper on a sail route for 32 yards against the zone in the second quarter, earning 7 of those yards after the catch. It was most of his production for the day.
|QB Taylor Heinicke, 82 offensive snaps, Pass: 33 - 53 - 274 - 1 TD / 3 INT, Rush: 3 - 33 - 0|
Making his first NFL start, Taylor Heinicke
showed incredible toughness throughout in a performance filled with moxie. After a fumble on the opening quarterback-center exchange, he calmed down and leaned on Christian McCaffrey
to move the chains. A well-orchestrated opening drive ended in a touchdown pass to Ian Thomas
. Heinicke, feeling the pressure, rolled to his left and held the ball for as long as he could before throwing a high pass to the back line of the end zone. Thomas went high into the air for the pass and came down with it beautifully. Heinicke sustained a nasty elbow injury in the second quarter, forcing him out of the game for a few plays. He came back into the game, but mistakes plagued him from that point. His first of three interceptions came on a roll right in the red zone, with the ball being tipped on a pass before landing in the arms of an Atlanta player. Heinicke scrambled when the opportunity presented itself, but often inviting pressure by backing up from the pocket rather than stepping up into it. A rookie mistake on his second pick was costly as Heinicke fell victim to staring down his intended receiver, allowing the defensive back to jump the pass. The final nail in the coffin for the day came on a deep heave down the left sideline. The Atlanta defensive back tracked the receiver all the way and made a fantastic play on a ball coming over his shoulder.
provided the bulk of the production for the Panthers offense, with inexperienced quarterback Taylor Heinicke
leaning on him often. McCaffrey set the record for most receptions by a running back in a single season, but the landmark day was business as usual for the tough runner. McCaffrey produced some outstanding moves in the open field as a receiver, including a spin move that left an Atlanta player grasping at air. As a runner, he bulled his way between the tackles, seeming to surprise the Falcons at times with his leg drive. He had ample opportunity in the red zone, but the offense was unable to punch it in. McCaffrey was taken out of the game in the fourth quarter by the coaching staff with the game out of hand.
|WR Jarius Wright, 57 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 69 - 0 (8 targets)|
was more involved than usual in the offense in this game, partly due to the high volume of pass attempts. A fumble on his second catch Ů the ball jarred loose as he tried to make a move up the field Ů ended a Carolina drive and set Atlanta up in excellent field position. Wright linked up later with third-string quarterback Kyle Allen
on a seam route, exploiting a breakdown in the Atlanta secondary. Wright was mostly limited, however, to short catches for minimal yardage.
|WR Curtis Samuel, 78 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 41 - 0 (13 targets)|
distinguished himself in a less-than-ideal offensive environment, showing excellent toughness and will throughout. He was often targeted deep by Taylor Heinicke
, with the first shot falling short of a streaking Samuel, who overran the play. Samuel made impressive catches on several off-target throws, running crisp routes and rarely letting his quarterback down. A red zone target on a shallow crossing pattern was borderline catchable, but the Atlanta defensive back was able to pop the ball loose from a despairing Samuel's grasp. Another deep target late in the game - a shot to the right corner of the end zone - was broken up by an Atlanta defensive back.
The forgotten man of the passing offense, Devin Funchess
was not targeted until the second half, with his only catch coming on a deep out pattern to the left sideline. A subsequent target over the middle was too low for him to gather, with pressure affecting Taylor Heinicke
|WR D.J. Moore, 86 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 19 - 0 (7 targets)|
found little joy with backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke
at the helm. An early deep target down the right sideline saw the pass thrown behind him on what appeared to be a miscommunication. When he got the ball in his hands on a shallow cross, he turned up the field instantly and looked dangerous, but those opportunities were few. A deep target down the left sideline late in the game fell agonisingly incomplete after Moore dove at full stretch to haul it in.