Panthers win in Atlanta to move above .500

Carolina won its third straight and gave Coach Matt Rhule his first division win

Carolina Panthers strong safety Juston Burris (31) celebrates his interception with Carolina Panthers free safety Tre Boston (33) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The Carolina Panthers ran their winning streak to three in a row with a 23-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Carolina moved to 3-2 on the year, posting a winning record for the first time since Week 10 of last season. The Panthers also recorded their first NFC South victory of coach Matt Rhule’s tenure with the team.

It was also the Panthers’ first win in Atlanta since 2014.

After trailing early, the Panthers scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter, holding the Falcons to 33 yards in the quarter. The Panthers continued their remarkable turnaround after losing their first two games of the year and having star running back Christian McCaffrey suffer an injury.

Carolina didn’t allow any sacks for the second week in a row and also avoided turning the ball over.

Three thoughts

1. In the fourth quarter, Atlanta took over trailing by seven points and drove to the Carolina 5-yard line. Former NC State Wolfpack player Juston Burris then made a leaping interception of an underthrown Matt Ryan pass to give Carolina the ball back.

“Juston made the play of the game,” said quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Rhule agreed.

”They had turned the tide of the game,” he said. “We were wearing down. They were moving the ball. It was a huge, huge, huge play for us. Juston Burris — what a tremendous play.”

2. The Panthers took over after the interception and put the game on ice. Bridgewater led a drive that took 7:39 off the clock and ended in a field goal with 1:10 remaining. “You want to score, first and foremost,” Rhule said, “but when you can’t score, you want to hold the ball as long as possible. That last drive, we ran it all the way down. Lot of great runs. Lot of great plays.”

3. One of the plays on that game-breaking drive was a 17-yard third-down run by wide receiver Curtis Samuel to move the chains for the first time on the drive.

“That uplifts the team, Curtis’ play,” Rhule said. “It was a great check by Teddy (Bridgewater). That’s not a called play. It looked like there was a problem with the exchange, but Curtis found a way. Curtis was one of the stories today.”

Bridgewater said his thinking on the audible was, “Hey, we’re going to make this DB (Atlanta defensive back) that just came into the game make a tackle, and (Samuel) ran right at him.”

Number to Know

99 — Receiver Robby Anderson had eight catches for 112 yards, the fourth time in the Panthers’ five games this season he’s topped 99 yards. He did it three times all of last year.

They Said It

“It’s the team. No one deserves it — they all deserve it. It’s the guy playing jammer on punt team coming down and making the tackle. It’s the punter. It’s the field goal protection team. It’s perceived as a game of superstars, but it’s not.”

— Panthers coach Matt Rhule

Player of the Game

Mike Davis, Panthers running back —  Davis continued to show he’s up to the task of replacing the injured McCaffrey. He had 20 touches and 90-plus scrimmage yards for a career-high third straight game. Davis had 89 rushing yards and nine catches for 60 yards and a score.

“He’s not getting tackled by the first tackler,” Rhule said. “We found some runs he feels really comfortable with. He has a great second effort, great yards after contact. That’s the mark of a good back. He does a good job catching the football and has great situational awareness.”

Critical thinking

Brian Burns had a strip sack of Matt Ryan deep in Atlanta territory. Burris tried to pick the ball up and score rather than fall on the fumble, and Atlanta was able to recover. On the very next play, Burns suffered a possible concussion injury and didn’t return to the game — one of four Panthers defenders to leave the game, joining Yetur Gross-Matos (ankle), Donte Jackson (toe) and Kawann Short (shoulder).

Rhule didn’t have an update on the injured players afterward but said, “You lose some guys, the backups step up.”