Falcons vs. Panthers score, takeaways: Carolina swallows up Marcus Mariota, Atlanta in ugly NFC South contest

The Falcons came into Charlotte on Thursday night looking to retake the NFC South lead. Instead, they left dampened and defeated, not only by the rainy remnants of Hurricane Nicole, but their rival Panthers. Neither side was particularly inspiring in such sloppy conditions, but whereas Arthur Smith’s offense failed until the waning minutes, with Marcus Mariota practically begging Desmond Ridder to replace him on every other downfield heave, Carolina actually showed spurts of life under interim coach Steve Wilks, riding a 100-yard night from D’Onta Foreman, plus a ferocious performance from their defensive line, to seal a 25-15 victory.

The Panthers improve to 3-7 with the win, and 2-3 since Wilks replaced Matt Rhule on the sidelines. PJ Walker resumed his starting role under center for the victory, though he stayed in the background as Carolina leaned on the run. Mariota, meanwhile, inexplicably aired it out more than usual for Atlanta, taking a number of ill-advised deep shots as the Falcons fell to 4-6, behind the Buccaneers in the South.

Here are some additional takeaways from Thursday night’s divisional contest:

Why the Panthers won

They played exactly the type of football you’re supposed to play when hurricane rains invade the action. D’Onta Foreman was the definition of a workhorse despite Chuba Hubbard’s return from injury, and he handled 31 carries like a pro, always moving forward and finishing with 130 yards and a hard-earned score. His clock-churning efforts took the burden off PJ Walker, who was spotty early but settled in as a background shepherd of the offense. Steve Wilks’ defense was the real winner, though, getting after Marcus Mariota all night. On a relatively quiet evening for Brian Burns, everyone else feasted, with Shaq Thompson, Derrick Brown, Frankie Luv and Marquis Haynes combining for four sacks and nine tackles for loss. That entire unit played with confidence, using the weather to its advantage, and headlined the close win on a short week.

Why the Falcons lost

Younghoe Koo missed two extra points in the rain — a first for him in his prestigious young career — but Atlanta’s issues went way beyond special teams. The chief issue: Arthur Smith’s offense, which refused to utilize Cordarrelle Patterson early, inexplicably went on the heavier pass in the rain, and got one of Mariota’s worst performances in a season full of iffy outings. The QB showed fight late, pulling the game within a score, but only after throwing a bad interception (and at least three other would-be picks) while forcing off-mark throws to the perpetually underused Kyle Pitts. Atlanta’s “D” eventually wore down against the run, also permitting a big Laviska Shenault TD on a swing pass, but this was mostly a case of Smith’s group failing when it mattered most, finishing just 3 of 13 on third- or fourth-down plays.

Turning point

Up 13-9 in the third quarter, the Panthers had just allowed the Falcons to pull close with a Mariota TD pass to Drake London. But then, two plays into the subsequent series, Carolina gained 43 yards on a short pass to Terrace Marshall Jr., who shed several tackles to push the Panthers all the way inside Atlanta’s 40. From there, Wilks’ squad pounded it forward, sealing the drive with a 13-yard scoring run from Foreman to confirm their lead for good.

Play of the game

The Panthers showed early they could make Mariota uncomfortable, and that was never more clear than when pressure forced the Falcons QB to roll left, out of the pocket, and then hurl it deep — into the waiting arms of Jaycee Horn:

What’s next

The Panthers (3-7) will hit the road in Week 11 to face the Ravens (6-3), who are on their bye after routing the Saints in prime time. The Falcons (4-6), meanwhile, will return home to host the Bears (3-6), who play the Lions this weekend.

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