CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the short week, or maybe it was the Atlanta Falcons suffering a complete meltdown. Either way, the Carolina Panthers bested their NFC South rival with a well-played game on all sides of the ball.
The Panthers defeated the Falcons 25-15 thanks to the team's offense doing just enough and the Carolina defense causing problems for Atlanta quarterback Marcus Mariota all night long.
Weather played a major factor in the contest. Remnants of Hurricane Nicole moved into the Charlotte area Thursday night, causing wind gusts of up to 35 mph and scattered downpours on Bank of America Stadium.
The conditions swirled for a defensive struggle contest already expected to be low scoring as the game featured two games with losing records and, at times, inept offenses.
After the Falcons punted on their first drive, the Panthers drove 41 yards downfield and scored the first points of the game on a 46-yard Eddy Piñeiro field goal that went in after hitting the left upright.
The Panthers extended their lead in the second quarter when Laviska Shenault Jr. ran a sweep to the left side and bolted 41 yards for the game's first touchdown.
Mariota threw an interception on the next drive which the Panthers converted into another Piñeiro field goal to take a 13-0 lead late in the first half.
The Falcons ran a successful drive to end the half and added their own field goal to make the score 13-3 at the half.
Atlanta tightened the margin in the third quarter after the Falcons put together a well-designed drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Mariota to Drake London in the red zone. Younghoe Koo missed an extra point for the first time since 2020 to keep the score 13-9.
The Panthers responded with a methodical drive of their own complete with some effective running from Chuba Hubbard, D'Onta Foreman, and even quarterback P.J. Walker. Carolina finished the drive with a 12-yard Foreman touchdown.
Another Piñeiro field goal gave the Panthers a 22-9 advantage late in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons scored with just under three minutes remaining on a 25-yard Mariota pass to KhaDarel Hodge. Koo, however, missed the extra point yet again, leaving the score at 22-15.
Carolina had a chance to run out the clock but the Falcons' defense clamped down and forced a punt. Atlanta got the ball back with just over two minutes to go and one more shot to tie the game.
But throwing the ball in the rainy conditions was not a viable option and Mariota was sacked twice as the Falcons turned the ball over in just four plays.
Overall, the Panthers sacked Mariota five times, the most sacks in a game for Carolina this season. One of those sacks turned out to be a good thing for Atlanta, though. Late in the game, Mariota threw a pass while falling to the ground that was caught by a Panthers defender and returned for a possible touchdown. However, Mariota's backside hit the turf before he let the ball go and a sack left the Falcons with a 4th down instead of a turnover.
Foreman put up his third 100-yard game of the season, picking up 130 yards and a touchdown as he continues to prove why he is the Panthers' No.1 back following the Christian McCaffrey trade.
Walker was not called upon much in the deluge, completing 10 of 16 passes for 108 yards. He did his part to keep the offense moving and not turn the ball over.
Mariota led the Falcons on the ground with just 43 yards. He was unable to be efficient enough for the team as they played catchup, converting 19 of 30 passes for 186 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
The Panthers have won all three of their games against NFC South opponents. They hold a 3-1 record against divisional opponents and a 0-6 record against everyone else.
Next week, the Panthers (3-7) travel to M&T Bank Stadium to play the Baltimore Ravens (4-3). A loss for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday would leave the Panthers just one game out of the NFC South lead.
The Falcons (4-6), meanwhile, host the Chicago Bears (3-6), and are just a half-game out of first place in the division.