Atlanta Overcomes Slow Start Against Carolina To Win Season Opener

ATLANTA — After a slow start and two interceptions from Jessie Bates III, Desmond Ridder helped lead the Falcons to a 24-10 season-opening win over division rival Carolina.

Here’s how it all went down at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Atlanta received the opening kickoff, which was a touchback that would set them up at their own 25-yard line with Desmond Ridder under center.

His first pass was deflected, and he coraled the reception after some massive hang time and a 6-yard loss. On the Birds’ second play from scrimmage, they would elect to go to the ground with an eight-yard carry from Bijon Robinson. On 3rd down, Panthers linebacker Brian Burns would find his way into the backfield to sack Ridder and force a fumble.

Falcons would punt as the drive ended in a quick three and out. Then, it was Bryce Young’s turn to start his NFL career. The fresh signal caller would see mild success early in the drive, connecting with Terrance Marshall Jr. on second down for 12 yards and a 1st down, his first career completion.

His next dropback would be a fumbled snap, which he would recover. He followed this with back-to-back completions to wide-out Laviska Shenault Jr. for 16 yards as they marched into the red zone. This is where the drive would stall out; however, after electing to go for it on a 4th and short from the 11-yard line on a run, the play was met with force upfront by the Atlanta defense, forcing a turnover on downs.

Atlanta’s second drive would be highlighted by a 22-yard carry from Tyler Allgeier. However, it, too, would end in a punt.

Young’s second drive would spark the young quarterback’s inexperience. On 2nd and 16, backed up to his own eight-yard line, he threw over the middle and into coverage, where Jessie Bates III was there to cut it off with the Falcons’ first interception of the season.

It would then take just three plays and a minute and seven seconds for the Falcons to find the end zone. Ridder connected with Robinson to the right sideline, on 3rd and four, and he took it the rest of the way for the score.

This made it 7-0 Atlanta with 14:52 left in the 1st half. Carolina’s offense would have no answer on the ensuing possession to make up for the turnover as they stalled with a three-and-out.

After the Falcons returned the favor with a three and out of their own, Young seemed to get his feet under him as he led the Panthers across midfield. Then, faced with a 3rd and eight from the 41, Young connected with Jonathan Mingo, who toe-taped in the left sideline to get the first down.

Four plays later, it was Young connecting with tight-end Hayden Hurst for his first career TD pass. It came on a 2nd and goal at the four-yard line and tied things up at seven with 5:09 left to play in the 1st half.

This is where things would stand as went the half. Ridders’ struggles continued as he was just 8-10 for 24 yards passing, with the lone TD coming from the short field given after the Young interception. As a whole, the Falcons accounted for just 74 yards of total first-half offense.

“It was tough to get in rhythm. The thing that kept us in it was our defense.” , said Ridder postgame.

In the second half, it would be the Panthers getting the ball first, and they were able to march across midfield against the Falcons defense. They would tighten up and force Carolina to settle for a 43-yard field goal from Eddy Pineiro to make it 10-7 with 10:46 left in the 3rd.

The Falcon’s first drive of the second half would set up at their own 25-yard line. After three plays, they would have to settle for yet another punt, the 5th to this point in the game.

Young’s freshness to the NFL would yet again poke its head on the ensuing possession. On a 3rd and six from their own 40-yard line, Young got caught staring down his receiver over the middle and waited, threw, and suffered the consequences. It was yet again Bates III there to snuff it out and flip possession.

The Falcon’s offense, however, couldn’t do anything, and they would have to settle for a 49-yard Younghoe Koo field goal to tie things up. To this point, with under five minutes left in the 3rd, quarterback Desmond Ridder had just 31 passing yards from the Dirty Birds, and sounds of boos started to become audible as the offense went off the field.

Young had Carolina on the move yet again, and yet again, another turnover would put a halt to their momentum party. This time, it came on a 1st and ten from the ATL 44, and Miles Sanders took a shot from Bates, fumbled, and then Lorenzo Carter was there to cover the ball for Atlanta.

“We were able to adapt and play as a team. I think in the second half they were able to wear them down.” Said Falcons head coach Arthur Smith of the their ability to force turnovers and seemingly wear down the Panthers.

This gave them possession at their own 39-yard line, and it was time to get to work. They went ground heavy, with the lack of production through the air. Five of their seven plays would be rushes, including the three-yard go-ahead score to the left pylon from Allgeier.

Carolina went back to work trailing 17-10 with 14:18 left to play. After picking up a first down, the second set of downs would end after Grady Jarrett and Troy Anderson combined for a sack and forced a punt.

The Falcons and Panthers would then trade three-and-outs. An Atlanta scoring drive would ensue, with the spark coming on a 35-yard pass from Rider to Pitts, who moved the defender out of his way to snag the pass despite the defensive pass interference. This made it 1st and goal Falcons at the seven-yard line with 4:57 left to play. Two plays later, it was Allgeier leading over the left side of the pile into the endzone for the score to make it 24-10 Falcons with 4:51 left to play.

Carolina would have two more possessions. However, they wouldn’t be able to muster any points from the drives as Bryce Young’s debut in the NFL began with a loss and the Falcons improved to 1-0.

Final Stats –

Atlanta – D. Ridder 15 of 18 for 115 yards passing and 1-TD
Carolina – B. Young 20 of 38 for 146 yards and 1 TD, with Two INT’s

Atlanta – T. Allgeier 15 carries for 75 yards and 2-TD’s

Carolina – Miles Sanders 18 carries for 72 yards.

Atlanta – B. Robinson 6 receptions for 27 yards and 1-TD

Carolina – Hayden Hurst 5 receptions for 41 yards and 1-TD

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