CHARLOTTE — D’Onta Foreman admitted he was tired — at times completely gassed.
But the Carolina Panthers running back said there wasn’t a chance he was going to tap on his helmet and ask to take a breather. He’s waited too long in his injury-plagued career for this opportunity.
“When the game is on the line there is no coming out,” Foreman said.
Foreman carried 31 times for 130 yards and a touchdown, Laviska Shenault added a 41-yard burst to the end zone and the Panthers beat the Atlanta Falcons 25-15 on a rainy Thursday night.
Foreman’s 31 carries were the most by a Carolina running back since Nick Goings’ 36 in 2004. The Panthers (3-7) piled up a season-high 232 yards on the ground, and Eddy Pineiro kicked four field goals after he missed two critical kicks in a 37-34 overtime loss to the Falcons 11 days earlier.
“You have to continue to grind, continue to pound it,” said Foreman, who has three 100-yard running games since Christian McCaffrey was traded to San Francisco. “That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted the ball in my hands.”
The Falcons’ Marcus Mariota finished 19 of 30 for 186 yards and two touchdowns, but was sacked five times and intercepted once.
Atlanta fell to 4-6, leaving Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) alone atop the NFC South. The Bucs play Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks in Germany.
Carolina improved to 2-3 since coach Matt Rhule was fired and replaced on an interim basis by Steve Wilks. Four days earlier, the Panthers were blown out 42-21 at Cincinnati after falling behind 35-0 at halftime.
“I’m extremely proud of the men in this locker room and how we bounced back,” Wilks said.
Foreman, who ran for 118 yards and three TDs in the last meeting on Oct. 30 in Atlanta, capped off a crucial seven-play, 84-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown run off right tackle to give Carolina a 19-9 lead with 1:51 left in the third quarter.
The Falcons cut Carolina’s lead to 22-15 when Mariota found a wide-open KhaDarel Hodge for a 25-yard touchdown with 3:01 left in the game after the Panthers botched a coverage assignment. Younghoe Koo, who had made 71 straight extra points, missed his second PAT of the game to keep the margin at seven points.
The Falcons got one last shot to tie the game, taking over at their own 34 with 2 1/2 minutes to play. But Carolina’s Marquis Haynes sacked Mariota twice and the Falcons turned the ball over on downs at their 15.
“It starts with me,” Mariota said. “I’ve got to do a better job getting us into better plays. When you’re not consistently creating good first- and second-down plays, it’s tough on third down. And then when you’re not converting third downs, you’re not sustaining drives and you’re not scoring points.”
Carolina’s defense, which allowed Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon to run for 153 yards and four touchdowns — and the Bengals to amass 241 rushing yards as a team — on Sunday, held the league’s fourth-best rushing attack to 138 yards.
Atlanta came in averaging 162.9 yards on the ground.
“It wasn’t pretty. They won both lines of scrimmage,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said.
The Panthers often stacked the box and sold out against the run, daring Mariota to beat them.
Shenault gave Carolina a 10-0 lead in the second quarter when he caught a swing pass from P.J. Walker after circling the backfield in motion and raced down the left sideline past five Falcons defenders — two of whom collided and took each other out of the play. The touchdown was ruled a rush because Walker’s toss was not a forward pass.
Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson injured an Achilles tendon in the fourth quarter and fullback Gio Ricci suffered a neck injury in the second half. Neither returned.
Carolina plays at Baltimore on Nov. 20.