• Atlanta Falcons playoff picture: Falcons in 'must win' situation against Panthers

    By: Wilton Jackson


    ATLANTA - The Atlanta Falcons (9-6) needed a win against their NFC South opponent, the New Orleans Saints, to clinch a playoff spot on Christmas Eve. Instead, the Falcons suffered a 23-13 loss to the Saints.

    The Falcons, however, still control their own destiny. If they defeat the Carolina Panthers Sunday, the Falcons are in. If Atlanta loses and Seattle defeats Arizona, the Seahawks will claim the final wild card spot in the NFC playoff picture.

    If the Falcons lose and the Seahawks lose to the Cardinals, Atlanta will still earn a spot in the playoffs because the Falcons own the tiebreaker over the Seahawks.

    There's nothing like watching bitter division rivalries deciding the fate of what team earns a spot in the playoffs. For the Falcons, slowing down Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will not be an easy task but they must find a way to do so to secure a playoff spot. 

    Follow Channel 2 sports reporter Anthony Amey as he brings you the latest coverage from the Falcons-Panthers game Sunday evening in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

    With two weeks left in the regular season, the Falcons (9-5) control their own destiny as far as earning a spot in the playoffs is concerned. Even more, Atlanta has the opportunity to earn a spot in the playoffs and/or win the NFC South division by beating the New Orleans Saints (10-4) in New Orleans on Sunday and defeating Carolina (10-4) on New Year’s Eve.  

    Nov. 5 – at Carolina Panthers

    2017 Result/Highlights: The Falcons lost to the Panthers, 20-17.  The Falcons gave up 201 rushing yards on the ground, with most of the damage coming from Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey. The Falcons rushed for 53 yards in the game. Matt Ryan threw for 313 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, adding to his number of interceptions for the season.

    2016 Result/ Highlights: The Falcons defeated the Panthers, 33-16. Ryan threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns. Running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman combined for 143 yards, and the Falcons’ defense held Newton and the Panthers to 4-of-15 on third-down conversions. 


    Nov. 12 – Dallas Cowboys 

    Atlanta Falcons Julio Jones (11) in action, incomplete pass in endzone vs Dallas Cowboys Brandon Carr (39) and J.J. Wilcox (27) at AT&T Stadium.
    Photo: Darren Carroll, Getty Images

    2015 Result/Highlights: The Falcons and the Cowboys last played in 2015 with the Falcons winning the game, 39-28, on the road in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys’ team that the Falcons played against featured Brandon Weeden at quarterback, and Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden at running back.

    2017 Result/Highlights: The Falcons defeated the Cowboys, 27-7. In a game where the Cowboys were without Elliot, who finally began serving his six-game suspension, the Falcons took full advantage. Ryan threw for 215 yards and two touchdowns and became the fastest quarterback (151 games) to reach 40,000 career yards. Freeman left the game early Sunday with a head injury, but it did not stop Atlanta's rushing attack. Coleman and Terron Ward combined for 106 yards on the ground.

    Defensively, Falcons' Adrian Clayborn set an Atlanta record with six sacks. Clayborn had more sacks in this game than any other season in his career except for his rookie year in 2011, when he had 7.5. He came into Sunday with 20.5 sacks in his seven-year career.

    Nov. 20 – at Seattle Seahawks 

    Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan (2) celebrate a Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) touchdown during the NFC Divisional Playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons on January 14, 2017, at the Georgia Dome.
    Photo: Frank Mattia, Getty Images

    2017 Result/Highlights: In a game where the Legion of Boom defense was filled with injuries, Seattle managed to give Atlanta all it could handle on its home field but the Falcons squeezed out a huge road win to keep their playoff hopes alive, winning 34-31. Still without Freeman at running back, Coleman and Ward carried the load by combining for 74 yards and one touchdown. Ryan threw for 195 yards and two touchdowns, one where he connected with Sanu and the other score to tight end Levine Toilolo. Russell Wilson threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns an anchored a Seahawks' offense that compiled 360 yards of offense in the game, compared to the Falcons 279. The difference maker in the Falcons' victory was their ability to record a higher percentage of third-down opportunities (9-of-14) than the Seahawks (5-of-12). Seattle, who entered the game as one of the highest penalized teams in the league, committed more penalties than Atlanta. 

    2016 Result/Highlights: The Falcons got off to a slow start, trailing 17-3 at halftime on the road. By the end of the third quarter, Atlanta secured the lead behind Ryan’s three touchdown passes. The Seahawks, however, then responded with a touchdown and a field goal in the fourth quarter to beat the Falcons, 26-24.

    2017 NFC Divisional Playoff Results/ Highlights: Wilson connected with Graham for the first touchdown of the game. Ryan, then, tossed a touchdown pass to Jones to put the Falcons on the scoreboard. Following a field goal by the Seahawks in the second quarter, Atlanta controlled the remainder of the first half and second half as the Falcons defeated the Seahawks, 36-20. Ryan threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Coleman and Freeman combined for 102 yards on the ground, and the Falcons’ defense forced Wilson into throwing two interceptions. 

    Nov. 26 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

    Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) speaks with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) post game in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Georgia.
    Photo: Getty Images

    2017 Result/Highlights: In true NFC South fashion, the Falcons used a 20-point first half and maintained the lead over the second half to defeat the Buccaneers, 34-20, securing a critical division win as the season unfolds. In a game where the Buccaneers were without Winston at quarterback, Atlanta held Tampa Bay to 4-of-11 in third down conversions, which served as the difference maker in preventing the Buccaneers' offense to stay on the field. For the Falcons, Ryan threw for 317 yards and one touchdown. Sanu threw a 51-yard bomb to Julio Jones for a touchdown. Coleman and Ward combined for 132 yards on the ground, with Coleman scoring twice in the game. Keanu Neal and Robert Alford led the Falcons' defense in tackles, recording eight and seven respectively. 

    2016 Result/Highlights: In the Falcons' first game last season, the Falcons jumped out to an early lead before the Buccaneers took a 17-13 lead at the half. Jameis Winston added two more touchdowns in the third quarter. The Falcons rallied, but their comeback fell short, as Tampa Bay won 31-24 at the Georgia Dome. Despite having more yards of offense and controlling the time of possession, the Falcons committed seven penalties for 74 yards, something that hurt them in the game. 

    Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts to a play during the second half against the Minnesota Vikings at the Georgia Dome on November 29, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.
    Photo: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

    Dec. 3 – Minnesota 

    2017 Result/Highlights: In a solid defensive contest, the Vikings limited the Falcons' offense to three field goals, 173 yards passing and 102 yards on the ground in the game. Third-down conversions also played a factor in the Falcons loss as they converted 1-of-10 in comparison to the Vikings finishing 6-of-12. Minnesota controlled the pace of the game in winning the time of possession battle. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum finished with 227 yards and two touchdowns in the game. Latavius Murray ran for 76 yards for Minnesota. Despite the loss, Freeman returned to the field, recording 76 yards on 16 carries, with Coleman rushing for 22 yards.

    2015 Result/Highlights: In a low-scoring affair, the Vikings defeated the Falcons, 20-10, behind a huge performance from then Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 158 yards on 29 carries and recorded two touchdowns. Teddy Bridgewater threw led the Vikings passing attack and threw for 174 yards and one interception. It was a rough outing for the Falcons, who scored only once in the game. Ryan threw for 230 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He was also sacked twice. Tevin Coleman ran for 110 yards, while then Falcons wide receiver Roddy White and Julio Jones combined for 11 receptions for 116 yards. Minnesota also controlled the time of possession and converted more of its third-down conversions than Atlanta.

    Dec. 7 – New Orleans Saints

    Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones (11) goes up to catch a pass during the second half of the NFL game between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons on January 01, 2017, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga. The falcons defeat the Saints 38-32.
    Photo: Frank Mattia, Getty Images

    2017 Result/Highlights: With a playoff spot on the line, the Falcons stepped and earned a huge win at home Thursday night, defeating the Saints 20-17. Despite Ryan's three interceptions in the game, he finished with 221 yards and a touchdown. Freeman rushed for 91 yards on 24 carries, while Coleman finished with 32 yards on nine carries. Atlanta won the battle in time of possession (34:41) to the Saints' 25:19. A major part of Atlanta controlling the pace of the game was the Falcons much-improved ability in third-down conversions. Atlanta finished 7-of-12 in third-down opportunities while New Orleans went 3-for-10. Defensively, the Falcons held the Saints to 50 rushing yards, mainly due to the loss of Alvin Kamara in the game when he took a huge hit to the head. Jones and Sanu also combined for 181 yards. 

    2017 Result/Highlights (2016 Regular Season): In Week 17 last season, the Falcons’ offense got off to a very hot start, taking a 14-10 lead at the end of the first quarter. Atlanta’s dominance continued in the second quarter as Ryan threw three touchdowns, giving the Falcons a 35-13 lead at halftime. In the second half, the Saints rallied, but the Falcons held on to win, 38-32. Ryan threw four touchdowns. Coleman and Freeman combined for 140 yards. Jones tallied seven catches for 96 yards, while Freeman caught five passes for 81 yards. Defensively, the Falcons surrendered 350 yards through the air and 132 yards on the ground. 

    Dec. 18 – at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

    WR Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons keeps his feet in the end zone in front of cornerback Vernon Hargreaves #28 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as he hauls in a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Ryan at Raymond James Stadium.
    Photo: Brian Blanco, Getty Images

    2017 Result/Highlights: The Falcons defeated the Buccaneers, 24-21, maintaining their sixth spot in the NFC playoff race.

    2016 Result/Highlights: The Falcons led the Buccaneers 20-14 at halftime and never looked back. Ryan exploded for three touchdowns in the second half, while the Buccaneers scored their final two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Atlanta defeated Tampa Bay, 43-28. Coleman and Freeman combined for another 100-yard plus performance, while Jones tallied 111 yards and was one of four receivers who recorded a touchdown in the game. 

    Dec. 24 – at New Orleans Saints 

    Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Matt Ryan (2) looks to pass during a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA.
    Photo: Tyler Kaufman, Getty Images

    2017 Result/Highlights: Atlanta needed to beat New Orleans to secure a playoff spot but the Falcons came up short, losing to the Saints 23-13. In a game where many felt New Orleans received some questionable calls by the referees, the Saints held the Falcons scoreless in the first half of the game. Beyond the Atlanta's lack of scoring, penalties hurt the Falcons as they committed 10 for 91 yards as opposed to the Saints' three. Ryan finished the game with 288 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Freeman and Coleman were held to a combined total of 48 yards. Jones finished with seven catches for 149 yards.

    Saints' Drew Brees threw for 239 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Kamara, who suffered a concussion in the first matchup between the two teams this season, and Ingram combined for 76 yards. Kamara also finished with 58 receiving yards in the game.

    2016 Result/Highlights: After a slow start to begin the game, the Falcons put up 21 points to the Saints’ 10 in the second quarter, taking a 28-17 lead. After halftime, the Saints cut the deficit to 10. The Falcons, however, responded with a field goal and a 90-yard interception return by Deion Jones to secure a 45-32 victory. In true New Orleans-Atlanta fashion, the Falcons surrendered 474 yards of total offense to the Saints. Offensively, the Falcons put up a solid performance on the ground and through the air, recording 442 yards of total offense.

    Dec. 31 – Carolina Panthers (11-4, 3-2)

    Oct. 2, 2016: Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) in action during the first half of the NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons beat the Panthers 48 - 33 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photos by Frank Mattia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    2017 Result/Highlights: Just a few hours before those on the east coast ushered out 2017, the Falcons closed the regular season with a 22-10 win over the Carolina Panthers to put themselves in the playoffs for a second consecutive year.

    Led by Devonta Freeman's receiving, a stingy defense and Matt Bryant's five field goals, the reigning NFC champions will have the chance to defend their crown, but this time, they will have to do so as the No. 6 seed, meaning Atlanta will play road games for as long as it remains alive.

    Freeman had nine receptions and the Falcons' only touchdown, which came on the opening drive of the game. Now, the Falcons will begin their postseason quest in Los Angeles against the NFC West champion Rams Saturday at 8:15 pm. 

    2016 Result/Highlights: The Falcons dominated game entirely for three quarters, taking a 31-10 at the end of the third quarter. A big reason for that lead came at the expense that Newton suffered a concussion and did not return in the game. In the fourth quarter, the Panthers stormed 23 points to cut the deficit to 41-33. The Falcons, however, added another touchdown to win the game, 48-33. Ryan threw for 503 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Coleman and Freeman combined for 76 yards. The Falcons' defense gave up a total of 378 yards of offense. 

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