Matt Ryan did what he had to do to lead his team to victory. He was 23/30 for 306 yards and a touchdown, but his game-managing skills were excellent. Ryan had at least one interception in the previous five games, but finally found a way to throw it to only his team. He played smart, and did not force throws that weren’t there. This game will likely give Ryan the confidence back that he has been searching for, and maybe he can turn his game around next season.
Running Backs: B+
Devonta Freeman had some key runs that put the Falcons in position to take home the victory. One of his runs that people forget about was with 11:53 in the fourth quarter. Atlanta had the ball on their own 49 yard line on a must convert 3rd-and-1, and Freeman went right, then cut up the middle for a 14 yard gain to set up a field goal later in the drive. He also had a four-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter to tie up the game early. Being without backup Tevin Coleman, Freeman carried the load and is running back of the present and future for this team.
Wide Receivers: A
The only reason the receivers do not get an A+ was because they had four drops that were drive-killers. But this is what Falcons fans expected out of their receiving core coming into the year. Julio Jones was a monster, which is no shocker. He had 9 receptions for 178 yards with a 70-yard touchdown that was one of the turning points in the game. Roddy White, who just hasn’t been targeted all year, had his big game. He had 5 receptions for 67 yards, but each reception kept drives going. Justin Hardy also had two receptions for 15 yards. I’ve said all year the team needs to involve other receivers besides Jones and Freeman, and using White created opportunities for the skill players of Atlanta.
Offensive Line: B
This unit had an up and down game against a dominant defensive front. In pass protection, the unit allowed only two sacks, but Ryan was hit more times then not. Luckily he was 8/9 under pressure, but he won’t do that every game. The run blocking was good and bad, and the unit was bailed out by the Falcons defense on the last drive. When the Falcons were trying to run the clock and the Panthers had one timeout with 1:48 remaining, the unit had three penalties that stopped the clock twice. Center Mike Person and Matt Ryan had two bad exchanges, one being a turnover. But give the offensive line credit in containing one of the top defenses in the NFL.