The Carolina Panthers found their footing in the run game as a 203-yard day on the ground led to a 19-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, halting the road team’s losing streak at four games.
The 203 yards rushing symbolized a season high for the Panthers, and the most they’ve had in Matt Rhule’s time as head coach. Rhule decreeed Monday afternoon that the team needed to find a way to run the ball more.
The Panthers had two scoring drives of seven minutes or more in the second half to overtake the Falcons. Carolina held the ball for 8:41 of the third quarter before Zane Gonzalez’s 23-yard field goal gave the Panthers the lead for good. Chuba Hubbard’s six-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach on a drive lasting 7:41 of game time.
Carolina’s defense also got their swagger back, with a pair of interceptions of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. Shaq Thompson earned a pick in his first game back in plus territory to derail a potential scoring drive, and Stephon Gilmore pilfered Ryan’s final pass of the game with Atlanta on the comeback trail.
The Panthers’ pass rush also returned to form, sacking Atlanta Ryan three times on the afternoon. Haason Reddick had one of the three sacks for Carolina, giving him 7.5 for the season which ranks second in the NFL.
Rhule said it was nice to get the reward of a victory after experiencing so much adversity during the past four weeks.
“We were able to run it 46 times, 60 percent on third down all the things I’ve talked to you guysabout that had to happen. Today they happened on defense,” Rhule said. “I thought that they played a good game on defense, close to a fourth-quarter shutout. The only issue being way too many drives kept going because of defensive penalties.”
Panthers QB Sam Darnold also got in on the running act with 66 yards rushing, but his last rush forced him out of the game with a concussion on a crushing hit from the Falcons’ Foye Oluokun. Rhule did not have an update postgame outside of the fact that he’s in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
Darnold completed just 13-of-24 passes for 129 yards.
Zane Gonzalez had a perfect afternoon kicking the football, making his lone extra point and four field goals, including a pair from beyond 50 yards (51 & 57). The 57-yard field goal came right before halftime, representing a stolen posssession and a momentum shift in Carolina’s favor.
Rhule said the game represented the team’s thin margin for error.
“One of my messages to the team was, last week was painful but it’s not as bad as it looks,” Rhule said. “You’re a closer team. We were a little closer today but just good enough for today.”
The Panthers (4-4), who won’t play consecutive home games during the rest of the season, return to Bank of America Stadium next Sunday to face the New England Patriots (4-4).