CHARLOTTE — Atlanta linebacker Mykal Walker has no explanation why the Falcons have played so well on the road this season and struggled at home.
“For me personally, I don’t see any difference between playing on the road or at home,” Walker said. “But now we’ve got to make the home field a home-field advantage. For us, we know what we’ve got to do now — and that’s go 4-0 the rest of the way.”
Matt Ryan threw for 190 yards and a touchdown, Walker returned an interception of Cam Newton 66 yards for a touchdown and the Falcons improved to 6-2 away from home with a 29-21 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Cordarrelle Patterson ran for 58 yards and a touchdown as Atlanta (6-7) kept its playoff hopes alive. The Falcons now have to find a way to win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where they are 0-5.
“The guys made a commitment to shut down the run game,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said, referring to his team allowing 203 yards rushing in a 19-13 loss to the Panthers on Oct. 31. “Defense did a nice job getting three takeaways. We played great complementary football.”
Newton lost his third straight start since his re-signing with Carolina.
He ran for a 12-yard touchdown on Carolina’s first possession, but turned the ball over twice and was replaced twice during the game by P.J. Walker, including midway through the fourth quarter. The Panthers (5-8) had three giveaways in all and have lost eight of their last 10 games under second-year coach Matt Rhule.
Newton called the turnovers “game killers.”
“To jeopardize the game the way I did today is inexcusable,” said Newton, who has lost his last 11 starts as Carolina’s starting QB dating back to 2018.
With the Panthers trailing 20-14 midway through the third quarter, Newton appeared to trip over center Pat Elflein’s foot after taking the snap. He tried to reach out to hand off to running back Chuba Hubbard but fumbled and Atlanta recovered.
The Falcons took advantage with tight end Hayden Hurst, just back from short-term injured reserve, hauling in a wide-open 3-yard touchdown pass in the flat for a 26-14 lead.
“We are looking for things to not be catastrophic,” Rhule said. “To put a snap on the ground on a second-and-1, that’s what really bothers you about that. … We just want to go to the ground there.”
Atlanta seemed in control and was working the clock when third-string running back Qadree Ollison fumbled at midfield, giving the Panthers some life. Walker cashed in with a 5-yard pass to Robby Anderson to cut the lead to 29-21 with 3:11 left.
The Panthers needed a stop on Atlanta’s next possession, but Ryan hooked up with Kyle Pitts for a 24-yard gain on a third-and-14 on a busted coverage; two Carolina players collided. The Falcons then ran out the clock.
“It can’t happen,” Rhule said. “It’s our base, Day One coverage. We had them. He should be caught and tackled, and it should be fourth down going back down the field to score.”
Newton’s other big mistake came in the first half when he fired over the middle for running back Ameer Abdullah, but Walker undercut the route and took the ball to the house. Newton said he never saw Walker.
Afterward, Walker pretended to rock the football back and forth like it was a baby. He became a father for the first time last Tuesday.
“Cam Newton and LeBron James were my favorite players growing up,” Walker said. “My first interception. My baby was born five days ago. … I’m on cloud nine right now.”
Rhule said the plan was to play Walker more this week in certain situations, including two-minute drives because he has more experience in that portion of the offense than Newton, who arrived last month.
“We wanted to play P.J.,” Rhule said. “We felt P.J. was going to do some good things for us in the game.”
As for a starter next week at Buffalo, Rhule indicated he was sticking with Newton, but added “I know that we have to play better at that position. We can’t have multiple turnover games from the quarterback position.”
The Panthers continued to struggle at home, where they have lost five straight. They have not won at Bank of America Stadium since Sept. 19. “It’s not what we expected — and it’s disappointing,” defensive end Brian Burns said.
Carolina plays at Buffalo next Sunday.