Jones’ 70-yard TD catch lifts Falcons past Panthers, 20-13
ATLANTA (AP) — The third-quarter heave from Matt Ryan looked like a desperation pass normally reserved for the end of the game.
It seemed to have little chance for success when the red jersey in his sights far down the field was flanked by two defenders.
Julio Jones soared over linebacker Luke Kuechly for a spectacular 70-yard touchdown catch that gave Atlanta the lead, and the Falcons handed the Carolina Panthers their first loss of the season with a 20-13 victory on Sunday.
“I know this team depends on me,” said Jones, who leads the NFL in receptions. “So when my number is called, I just try to go out there and deliver.”
The victory against previously perfect Carolina is one of the biggest highlights of the season for the Falcons (8-7), who had a major slump following a 5-0 start. The Falcons lost 38-0 at Carolina (14-1) two weeks ago, and for some players that was the major motivation.
“I wanted to beat them because we got skunked up there,” wide receiver Roddy White said.
Ryan threw for 306 yards and one touchdown, and Devonta Freeman ran for 73 yards and a TD.
Jones had nine catches for 178 yards, taking his matchup with Carolina cornerback Josh Norman. The touchdown catch changed the game.
As Jones reached above Kuechly, Panthers safety Kurt Coleman slipped, leaving a clear path for Jones to the end zone. The play put Atlanta ahead to stay at 14-10.
“It was great just to be able to sit in the pocket and realize he’s down there with a safety and a linebacker,” Ryan said. “That’s a good situation to be in.”
Carolina got one last chance when it got the ball with 90 seconds left and no timeouts remaining. Cam Newton completed a 19-yard pass to Corey Brown on first down but fumbled when stripped by Vic Beasley Jr. on the following play. Adrian Clayborn recovered for the Falcons, wrapping up the win.
Newton threw for 142 yards and ran for 46 more, including an 8-yard scoring run to cap the Panthers’ opening drive.
Atlanta’s Shayne Graham kicked field goals of 37 and 54 yards in the final 2:30.
Carolina trailed 14-10 in the fourth quarter when Ryan mishandled a shotgun snap from the Panthers 37. Ryan couldn’t pick up the loose ball. Norman made the recovery and returned it 12 yards. Graham Gano’s 47-yard field goal cut Atlanta’s lead to 14-13.
There was an expectation officials would call the game closely following complaints that play was allowed to get out of hand in the Panthers’ game against the Giants last week. Postgame fallout included a one-game suspension for New York wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Norman being fined $26,044 for his role in several incidents.
Carolina’s defense drew two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, including one on cornerback Charles Tillman that helped keep the Falcons’ marathon touchdown drive alive on their first possession.
The Falcons were stopped on a third-down incomplete pass before Tillman became entangled with Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White. Tillman drew the flag to keep Atlanta’s offense on the field. Ryan completed third-down passes to White and Jacob Tamme and had a key 7-yard run on another third-down play.
Freeman scored from the 4 on the first play of the second quarter for a 7-7 tie. The 16-play, 80-yard drive lasted more than 9 minutes.
NOTES: The loss snaps the Panthers’ streak of 18 straight regular-season wins. ... Falcons DT Paul Soliai (calf) and WR Eric Weems (concussion) left with injuries. Panthers RB Fozzy Whittaker was carted to the locker room with a right ankle injury. ... White had five catches for 67 yards.
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