The Atlanta Falcons are grateful to have played two of the worst teams in the NFL in back-to-back weeks, as they invited the 49ers into their home and didn’t even let them take their coats off before they stomped them out at the front door. They 21-skunked the Niners in the first quarter led by a dominating rushing attack that netted over 240 yards, led by Devonta Free-man (139 yards, 3 TDs) who had a monsterrrr game. He got the Falcons on the board first with a 5 yard TD run up the gut. Linebacker Deion Jones forced a fumble that was recovered by safety Keanu Neal who got the offense the ball back near midfield. QB Matt Ryan also had an efficient game (286 yards, 2 TDs) and relied on receiver Taylor Gabriel on the ensuing drive for a couple of catches – the latter a 9 yard TD catch to take a 14-0 lead. They put this one way early on a 3rd and goal, Ryan lobbed a pass into the back of the endzone to tight end Austin Hooper who went up and got his only catch of the game – a 9 yard TD reception to end this game before the Fox could even take their first TV timeout.
Atlanta will need to continue to win to hold onto the NFC South lead and it starts this weekend as they keep it in the dirty south for a visit to Carolina. The Panthers improved to 6-8 on the season after picking up a moral victory last Monday night against Washington, who was in the hunt for a final wild card spot. The Panthers enjoyed playing spoiler especially against former teammate Josh Norman who infamously signed with Washington after the Panthers let him go into free agency this past offseason. QB Cam Newton went after Norman early and often but ultimately took advantage of Washington’s poor safety play with a dart down the seam to Ted Ginn Jr. for a 30 yard TD pass to take a 10-3 lead. Safety Kurt Coleman continued his harassment of Kirk Cousins, picking him off at the end of the first quarter and returning the ball inside the 25 yard line. The pounded the ball into Washington territory to set up former Skins’ kicker Graham Gano to hit a 23 yard field goal against his old team. In the second half the Panthers’ defense collapsed the pocket on Cousins forcing his own lineman into him, causing a fumble. Wes Horton recovered the ball at the 1 yard line to set up Cam Newton’s goal line TD pass to the big fella Mike Tolbert to take a 20-9 lead. They continued to run the ball with Jonathan Stewart (132 yards)who bullied his way downfield, forcing the Skins to surrender down the stretch. The Panthers will more than likely embrace this spoiler role and it will mean even more this week if they can ruin the playoff plans of the team leading their division – the Falcons. Atlanta won the first matchup between these two teams way back in early October, but Atlanta isn’t as dominant as they were earlier in the year. The Panthers aren’t as disappointing either so it will be fun to see which of these NFC South opponents want this game more given their contrasting standings heading toward January.