It certainly was a tale of two halves for the Atlanta Falcons. After allowing Atlanta to score an early touchdown, the Panthers dropped 23 unanswered points in about 12 minutes, leaving the Falcons faithful hopeless, stunned and angry (myself included). They entered the locker room at the half with a comfortable 23-7 lead.
But whatever Mike Smith said in that locker room worked to perfection, and Atlanta came roaring back out the gate after halftime with a renewed sense of urgency and passion. Matt Ryan and a suddenly rejuvenated offense put up 24 second-half points, whilst a hungry defense held the still-young Cam Newton to zero points all the while. Two errors by Newton, both interceptions, were instrumental in allowing the Falcons back into the game.
All in all, the Falcons not only showed great resiliency with this win, but also displayed what their offense is actually capable of when firing on all cylinders. Now, onto the highlights:
Let's be honest: the first half was a nightmare for Atlanta. Cam Newton picks apart the Falcons secondary and finds Jeremy Shockey in the back of the end zone. DeAngelo Williams takes the handoff and goes 74 yards for the score untouched. Newton hits Greg Olsen on a screen pass that turns into a 44-yard score. The Panthers looked impressive, almost unstoppable at times, while the Falcons were coming apart at the seams.
Oh, and let's not forget the catalyst for all this: Sam Baker, who saw action at right guard today, completely failing to block Antwan Applewhite and allowing a safety. In fact, for the whole offensive line it was an ugly first half.
Things got better, however. The wily veteran Mike Peterson would pick off Newton's screen pass intended for Jonathan Stewart, which led to a field goal. Ryan would then connect with Jacquizz Rodgers on a 31-yard bomb in the end zone for a score.
Ultimately, it would be Julio Jones who would seal the deal for Atlanta. After scoring his first touchdown since week nine in the early moments of the fourth quarter, Ryan would hit Jones on a quick slant route. A couple of broken tackles later, Julio would find himself running 75 yards to the end zone on a back-breaking play that put the Falcons up by eight with less than five minutes left.
That lead would hold, and the Falcons completed their comeback and improve to 8-5. Julio, though he's had his inconsistencies as a rookie, is still showing lots o' potential, enough to perhaps become the superstar Thomas Dimitroff envisioned sooner than we think.