ATLANTA – The Atlanta Falcons managed to overcome their doddering rollout into the 2018 season with a needed 31-24 defeat of NFC South rival Carolina Panthers. Throughout the preseason and Atlanta’s lackluster effort in week one contest against the world champion Philadelphia Eagles, the Birds’ offensive unit seemed more geriatric or effete than potent.
Both clubs initially attempted to probe each other with plays designed to see how stout the defenses would be. The Falcons’ Jekyll and Hyde nature began to subside after Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian elected to use the running game with halfbacks Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith to strike at the heart of Carolina’s vaunted defensive line through the A & B gaps and occasionally on the outside using variations of Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Sweep.
Oddly, the game appeared to have turned when Falcons safety Damontae Kazee, replacement of convalescing starter Keanu Neal, unfortunately, decided to go kamikaze on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton resulting in minor skirmishes and a disqualification in the second quarter. The donnybrook was the caffeinated beverage Atlanta needed that spawned an offensive onslaught that flummoxed Carolina well into the fourth quarter.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan delighted the home crowd at the Millennium Falcon (Mercedes-Benz Stadium) by throwing two touchdown passes and rushed for two also. Ryan connected with eight different receivers in a 23 completions out of 28 attempts for 272 yards effort.
Nevertheless, the Carolina Panthers fought admirably back into the contest as Newton completed 32 passes out of 45 attempts for 335 yards and three touchdowns. Atlanta’s defensive unit became fatigued as Carolina made a gallant comeback by reducing what appeared to have been an inexpugnable deficit to within seven points. The Birds eased their fans fantods in the waning seconds for a victory that prevented overtime possibilities and a disastrous defeat.
At the end of the day, the Atlanta Falcons demonstrated some of the attributes ascribed to them as being one of a handful of teams who could survive the National Football Conference and gain ingress into Super Bowl LIII in their home stadium, which would be a welcomed surprise for Atlanta and an unprecedented accomplishment in National Football League history. The Falcons must find creative means to overcome injuries and conditioning challenges in order to be viewed as a serious contender.
In truthfulness, Atlanta is still viewed as essentially being an indoor (or dome) team that denotes weakness as the calendar transitions into a cooler climate for the playoff stretch when they travel to Green Bay and Carolina when Bûche de Noël is about to be consumed. The Falcons must convince themselves that they are a team to be reckoned with first before being overly concerned with earning plaudits from the general public.
Of course, instilling confidence in a club that had the Vince Lombardi Trophy ripped from their clutches a few seasons ago will take therapy and a higher level of determination in order to overcome the demons of disappointment and defeat. Head coach Dan Quinn must circumvent discontentment in favor of a mindset that can prove that a belief in brotherhood is more than mere hyperbole.