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Defense finally gets the needed takeaways

231217 Falcons In-Game-188

Entering Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, the Carolina Panthers ranked among the NFL's top defenses in some significant categories despite the team's 1-12 overall record.

The Panthers were third in passing yards allowed, fourth in total yards allowed and fifth in third-down efficiency.

But Carolina ranked last in the 32-team league in forcing turnovers with nine.

In Sunday's 9-7 victory, the Panthers forced two turnovers that stopped Atlanta drives at critical points of the game, in addition to creating points that proved decisive.

"We created turnovers," Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn said. "We didn't get in the end zone off the fumble, but we got points. And then to see the offense come back out there with seven minutes left (after an interception) and drive all the way down the field is elite execution by them. (It's) just complementary football, and it came out in our favor."

Late in the third quarter with Carolina trailing 7-3, cornerback Troy Hill and outside linebacker Brian Burns combined to create the first theft.

Hill punched the ball away from Atlanta's rookie running back Bijan Robinson, and Burns recovered at the Falcons' 24.

Six plays later, a Panthers field goal cut the Atlanta lead to 7-6 with 13:32 to play.

Later in the fourth quarter, safety Xavier Woods came up with the second turnover, as he intercepted a Desmond Ridder pass at the Carolina 3 and returned it two yards to the 5 with 7:35 left to play.

Not only did the interception stop a Falcons drive where points would've put Carolina in a tough spot, but the turnover seemed to breathe life into the rain-soaked crowd that stuck it out at Bank of America Stadium.

And based on what was about to happen, it certainly sparked the team's offense for a drive that gave the team its second win of the season.

Seventeen plays and five first downs after Woods' interception, Carolina's Eddy Piñeiro booted his second game-winning 23-yard field on the final play of the game this season.

"Again, we want to play together, so (when) the defense makes a big play like that (Woods pass interception), going through our mind is, 'Let's go capitalize,'" Panthers quarterback Bryce Young said. "Obviously getting a red zone turnover, that's huge. (The) defense has been playing lights-out, doing a great job. Then they gave us an opportunity like that, and we want to capitalize. That's really our mindset."

Interim Panthers head coach Chris Tabor said he watched the Avocados From Mexico Cure Bowl on Saturday in Orlando, Fla., that saw Appalachian State and Miami, Ohio, combine for 13 total fumbles in a 13-9 victory played during the same rainy weather system that came through Charlotte.

It gave him some idea of what Sunday might be like.

As the final whistle sounded, the teams combined for five fumbles, with Atlanta recovering two of their three fumbles and the Panthers recovering both of their fumbles.

"Obviously you preach 100-percent ball security," Tabor said. "Was I shocked by that? I wasn't because of the conditions, and I think mentally you already know that, but the kids did a good job of bouncing back, and we protected the ball, and that was big."

View all the action from the Panthers game against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15.

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