CHARLOTTE — The Panthers came up short in their quest for a fourth-quarter comeback, falling to the Falcons, 25-17.
A week after New Orleans never punted against Carolina, Atlanta punted just once, controlling much of the game.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had to exit midway through the third quarter after taking an illegal hit but re-entered in the fourth quarter to finish the game.
With the loss, Carolina is now 3-5 on the season.
Here are a few rapid reactions from the contest:
BRIDGEWATER GOES DOWN, COMES BACK IN
On third-and-7 from the Atlanta 37, Bridgewater stepped up in the pocket before he was tripped by defensive end Dante Fowler. He was flagged for sticking his foot out to bring down Bridgewater, but defensive end Charles Harris had the worse infraction. When Bridgewater was going down, Harris led with his right shoulder to hit Bridgewater in the head.
Bridgewater stayed down for a few moments before he got up and jogged off the field under his own power to get evaluated in the blue medical tent.
Backup quarterback P.J. Walker took over and the Panthers finished that drive with a field goal.
Bridgewater was evaluated for a concussion and cleared the protocol. He also had a neck injury but re-entered the game on with 9:49 left in the fourth quarter, after Walker had begun Carolina’s ensuing drive.
While the Panthers had to punt to finish that possession, Bridgewater put the offense in position to score in the final minute. But on third-and-6 from the Atlanta 30, Bridgewater’s deep pass to wide receiver DJ Moore on the left side was picked off by cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
The Panthers didn’t allow many touchdowns once the Falcons entered the red zone, but the defense didn’t stop Atlanta from getting in scoring position much either.
Six of Atlanta’s first seven possessions ended in points, the only exception being cornerback Donte Jackson‘s interception in the second quarter.
Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo connected on field goals of 20, 37, 36, and 29 yards to help Atlanta build its lead. Quarterback Matt Ryan also scrambled for a 13-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
But the dam broke in the fourth quarter, as running back Todd Gurley capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. Gurley had been mainly held in check but carried the ball on the last three plays of the possession for 6, 8, and 3 yards to score. Koo missed the extra point, keeping the lead at 25-17.
The Panthers finally forced a punt late in the fourth quarter. Defensive end Stephen Weatherly brought down Gurley for a 4-yard loss on first down. After an incomplete pass on second down, Gurley inexplicably ran out of bounds after a 5-yard gain on third-and-14 to stop the clock at 3:05.
THIRD- AND FOURTH-DOWN PROBLEMS
Carolina’s offense had difficulty moving the chains, going 2-of-10 on third down and 1-of-3 on fourth down. The lone third-down conversion came in the second quarter when Bridgewater hit wide receiver Curtis Samuel with a 3-yard swing pass on third-and-2.
But the Panthers had two critical failed fourth-down attempts that ultimately led to Atlanta points. Midway through the second quarter, Bridgewater kept a zone-read and darted to his right on fourth-and-1 from Atlanta’s 34. But he was knocked out of bounds short of the sticks at Atlanta’s 35 for a turnover on downs.
Then in the third quarter, running back Mike Davis got stuffed for a 1-yard loss on 4th-and-1 from Atlanta’s 42.
The Panthers only fourth-down conversion came on a fourth-and-9 from their 32. Safety Jeremy Chinn took a direct snap from punt formation and ran it 28 yards to the right all the way to Atlanta’s 40. Kicker Joey Slye would kick a 39-yard field goal to cap the possession.
SAMUEL’S STRONG START
Samuel had a big first half, scoring both of the Panthers’ touchdowns.
First, he ran in a 12-yard score to cap Carolina’s opening drive, his second rushing TD in as many weeks.
Then Samuel continued his reputation as the Panthers’ Mr. Third Down, picking up a third-and-2 with a 3-yard swing pass in Atlanta territory. On the next play, Bridgewater hit Samuel in stride on a flea-flicker pass in the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown.
In all, Samuel had five touches for 55 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first half. But in the second half, he had just two catches that totaled negative-1 yards.