Matt Ryan takes licks, still leads Falcons to comeback win

ATLANTA — Matt Ryan took an awful beating.

Another win for the Atlanta Falcons will make the pain a lot easier to take.

Shaking off a career-high seven sacks, Ryan completed a 59-yard pass to Roddy White with about a minute remaining, setting up Matt Bryant’s 40-yard field goal that kept the Falcons perfect on the season with a wild 30-28 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

After squandering a 24-14 lead in the second half, the Falcons (4-0) needed a crucial fumble by Cam Newton to even have a chance — and they still faced long odds when the Panthers downed a punt at the Atlanta 1 with 1:09 remaining.

Ryan had no timeouts and surely some doubt about how much time his beleaguered offensive line would give him. But he dropped back about as far as he could, threw it about as far as he could, and relied on White to go up and make the catch.

He did, between two defenders.

Bryant’s kick won it with 5 seconds remaining.

“We made the plays when we needed to,” said Ryan, who passed for 369 yards and three touchdowns. “That’s what you need to do week to week in this league.”

The Falcons (4-0) are off to their best start since 2004, when they reached the NFC championship game.

This was their stiffest challenge yet.

“That was exciting. Whew!” said coach Mike Smith, finally able to exhale. “Every time it looked bleak, every time it looked like we didn’t have a chance, we were able to overcome it.”

Newton threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score. But he let the ball slip away when it looked as though he had clinched the victory for the Panthers (1-3).

“You have to protect the football,” Newton said. “That was a key focus going into this game, and I fumbled. There’s a lot of guys that are trusting the ball carrier, and I was the ball carrier that particular play to get the job done. And I dropped the ball.”

On third and 2 at the Atlanta 46, Newton took the snap and bulled his way over the left side, his body surging across the spot needed for the first down. On the sideline, several of the Panthers broke into a celebration.

But John Abraham knocked it loose, the ball squirting backward. Fullback Mike Tolbert covered it for Carolina at the 45 — 1 yard shy of a first down. After attempting unsuccessfully to draw the Falcons offside, the Panthers punted.

Ryan and White took advantage of another chance.

“I threw it high and far to the spot we talk about,” Ryan said. “Roddy went up and made a great catch. When you’re in that situation late in the game, that’s what you have to do.”

White was sandwiched between cornerback Josh Norman and safety Haruki Nakamura, but managed to leap over both of them to bring down the pass at the Carolina 40. A pass interference call and two short completions made things easier for Bryant, who had already connected from 41 and 33 yards to improve to 8 for 8 on the season.

Make it 9 for 9.

The kick was straight down the middle.

With Julio Jones hindered by an injured right hand, White came up with a huge game for the Falcons. He had eight catches for 169 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. But his biggest catch was the final one.

Matt told me he was going to throw it up there. Just make a play,” White said.

Ryan credited his offensive line on the final drive, even though they struggled most of the day to keep him upright against Charles Johnson and the rest of the Panthers defense.

Johnson spent so much time in the backfield he should’ve worn an Atlanta jersey, finishing with 31/2 sacks. Ryan was hit nine times after throwing and hurried on eight other attempts.

Newton’s fumble ruined what had been a stellar performance. He threw for 215 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown to Greg Olsen early in the game, then a 36-yard scoring play to Kealoha Pilares that put the Panthers ahead 28-24 with 7:55 remaining.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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