FIRST DOWN: The moment of the first half came on fourth-and-4 in the second quarter, when quarterback Cam Newton scrambled and found plenty of room to run for an easy first down. But as he went to slide, Falcons safety Damontae Kazee went low and hit Newton viciously in the head. A brawl nearly ensued as wide receiver Torrey Smith retaliated to defend his quarterback. Once the dust settled, Kazee was ejected and Newton was cleared to return to the game before missing a snap.
After all that, there was no way the Panthers weren’t ending that drive with a touchdown. On third-and-goal from the 5, Newton connected with wide receiver Jarius Wright over the middle for his first passing touchdown of the season to give Carolina a 10-3 lead.
SECOND DOWN: Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson had an eventful first half, posting six tackles, but it’s the one he missed that set up Atlanta’s first touchdown. Running back Tevin Coleman juked away from Jackson at the line of scrimmage and took off down the sideline for a 36-yard gain. To Jackson’s credit, he chased down Coleman and stripped the ball out of bounds.
But moments later, Atlanta rookie wideout Calvin Ridley ran a crisp route and beat Jackson inside for an 11-yard score on third-and-8 to tie the game at 10. Perhaps you could call that series Jackson’s “welcome to the NFL” moment.
Jackson later had an unforgettable moment at the start of the second half, picking off an errant deep ball to Julio Jones for his first career interception. Unfortunately, Jackson left the game due to a hamstring injury in the third quarter.
THIRD DOWN: Coleman, starting in place of injured Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, broke the Panthers’ NFL-best streak of 21 games denying 100-yard rushers. Coleman went over 100 on just 11 carries.
Carolina always prides itself on strong run defense, and seeing that streak come to an end is both surprising and disappointing after the Panthers shut down Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott in Week 1.
And where was the pass rush we saw in the opener? A week after posting six sacks, Carolina failed to get to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
FOURTH DOWN: Not one, but two rushing touchdowns for Matt Ryan? It happened for the first time of his NFL career on Sunday. Ryan went airborne-ish to cross the goal line for an 8-yard score, giving Atlanta a 31-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The fact that he pulled that off against the Panthers defense is emblematic of the kind of day it was for the visitors.