EditorsNote: Adds McCaffrey set single-season record for catches by running back
Matt Ryan threw for two long touchdowns in the third quarter as the visiting Atlanta Falcons eliminated the Carolina Panthers from playoff contention with a 24-10 victory Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, N.C.
The Panthers (6-9), who have lost seven consecutive games and had only a slim chance of reaching the postseason prior to the game, finish the season next Sunday at NFC South champion New Orleans.
The Falcons (6-9) swept the season series from Carolina. They’ve won two games in a row going into next week’s game at Tampa Bay.
Panthers quarterback Taylor Heinicke, making his first career start because of Cam Newton’s shoulder injury, was intercepted twice in the red zone and three times total. Additionally, a fourth-quarter drive that reached the Atlanta 7-yard line was thwarted by an incomplete fourth-down pass and another possession advanced to the Atlanta 30 before a fourth-down sack.
Ryan finished 15-for-26 passing for 239 yards and three touchdowns. Brian Hill rushed for 115 yards on eight carries for the Falcons.
Ryan connected with Calvin Ridley on a 75-yard pass on the first snap of the second half to break a 10-10 tie. Later in the third quarter, Mohamed Sanu caught a short pass and ran uncontested to the end zone for a 44-yard play as the Falcons took a 24-10 lead.
Heinicke, a third-year pro out of Old Dominion, completed 33 of 53 passes for 274 yards and one touchdown. Running back Christian McCaffrey finished with 101 rushing yards on 21 carries and also caught 12 passes for 77 yards to set the NFL single-season record for receptions (106) by a running back.
Carolina didn’t score in the second half.
A pair of second-quarter turnovers negated each other.
Panthers receiver Jarius Wright’s fumble set up Atlanta at the Carolina 13 after cornerback Brian Poole’s recovery. On the next play, Kyle Love’s strip-sack of Ryan and recovery gave Carolina possession again.
On the ensuing drive, Heinicke departed with an injured left elbow after he was sacked on what was ruled roughing-the-passer on Atlanta defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. That meant the Panthers summoned rookie Kyle Allen, who played in college for Houston and was undrafted. He was signed from the practice squad a few day earlier.
The possession ended with Chandler Catanzaro’s 50-yard field goal. Atlanta’s Matt Bryant tied it at 10 with a 39-yarder.
Heinicke came back at the first half’s two-minute warning. After the Panthers reached the Atlanta 4, his tipped pass was intercepted by Jack Crawford.
Heinicke’s first drive as a starter consisted of 14 plays and ended with his 1-yard touchdown toss to tight end Ian Thomas. It lasted 8:03, making it the team’s longest possession in terms of yards and time this season.
The Falcons countered with a 13-play, 85-yard drive that ate up 6:19, capped by Ryan’s 1-yard pass to Julio Jones.
—Field Level Media