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Atlanta • Matt Ryan took the snap in his own end zone and threw it about as far as he could. Roddy White went up and got it. Matt Bryant took it from there, giving the Atlanta Falcons another victory.
After Ryan completed a 59-yard pass to White, Bryant kicked a 40-yard field goal with 5 seconds remaining to keep the Falcons perfect on the season with a 30-28 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The Falcons (4-0) are off to their best start since 2004, when they reached the NFC championship game. Despite taking a career-high seven sacks, Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes for Atlanta. Bryant added three field goals.
The Panthers (1-3) nearly clinched it on Cam Newton's run with just over a minute remaining, but he fumbled the ball while trying to dive for the necessary yardage. Carolina recovered and wound up punting, downing the ball at the Atlanta 1. But Ryan immediately got the Falcons out of the hole, throwing a 59-yard pass to Roddy White.
Four plays later, Bryant won it.
Ryan took an awful beating he was hit nine times after throwing and hurried on eight other attempts but still managed to throw for 369 yards. White caught a pair of touchdown passes, but his biggest play came after Carolina downed the ball in the shadow of the Atlanta end zone with 1:09 left.
The Falcons had no timeouts, so Ryan just stepped back and hurled one from the back of the end zone. While was sandwiched between cornerback Josh Norman and safety Haruki Nakamura, but managed to leap over both of them to bring down the pass at the Carolina 40. A pass interference call and two short completions set things up for Bryant, who had yet to miss on his first eight attempts this season.
He was automatic again, even after the Panthers called their final timeout just before the snap looking to freeze him. Bryant went ahead and kicked it away right through the uprights then did it again when it counted, putting his kick straight down the middle to give Atlanta only the third 4-0 start in franchise history.
Newton threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score, rallying the Panthers from a 24-14 deficit in the second half. It looked like he had clinched it when, on third-and-2 at the Atlanta 46, he took the snap and bulled his way over the left side, his body surging across the spot he needed to seal the victory.
But John Abraham knocked it loose, the ball squirting backward. Fullback Mike Tolbert covered it for Carolina at the 45 1 yards shy of a first down. After attempting unsuccessfully to draw the Falcons offside, the Panthers punted it away. When they downed it at the 1, it looked as though they would still be able to preserve the win.
But Ryan and White had other ideas.
Newton's fumble ruined what had been a stellar performance. He threw for 215 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown to Greg Olsen early in the game, then a 36-yard scoring play to Kealoha Pilares that put the Panthers ahead 28-24 with 7:55 remaining, capping their comeback from a 24-14 deficit.
Newton also ran for 86 yards on nine carries, bulling his way into the end zone from 4 yards out late in the third quarter.
The Panthers played much better than they did in their last outing, a 36-7 home loss to the New York Giants, but it wasn't enough to prevent them from sliding a daunting three games behind Atlanta in the NFC South.
Charles Johnson spent so much time in the Atlanta backfield, he should've worn a black jersey. He made life miserable for Ryan with 3½ sacks, had two other tackles behind the line, and even knocked down a pass. When it counted, though, the Falcons linemen were able to keep Johnson away from the quarterback on the final possession.
With Julio Jones hindered by an injured right hand, White came up with a huge game for the Falcons. He had eight catches for 169 yards.
Ryan's other touchdown pass was a 60-yarder to Michael Turner, who took a short screen pass right about the line of scrimmage and zigzagged down the field for the first TD pass reception of his nine-year career.
DeAngelo Williams scored Carolina's other TD on a 13-yard run.
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