Falcons win kicking game behind Matt Bryant, move into tie for first in NFC South



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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Matt Bryant said he borrows a page from the movie Happy Gilmore before each field-goal attempt.

"I just try to go to my happy place," Bryant said with a laugh.

Bryant had four field goals, including the go-ahead score with the 2:08 left in regulation to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers 19-17 on Sunday and move into a first-place tie with New Orleans in the NFC South.

"If you're not able to block that out, you're already behind the eight-ball," Bryant said. "I try to treat every kick the same, so that when I go out there to try and kick the game-winner, it feels just like that kick in the first quarter."

The Falcons (4-6) clearly won the kicking game as Carolina's Graham Gano missed a 46-yard field goal with 1:27 remaining and then had a desperation 63-yarder blocked as time expired.

"Since he's been an Atlanta Falcon I can't tell you how many game-winning field goals he's kicked for us, but he's been a big part of our success," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We get the ball to a certain point on the field depending on the weather or how he kicked in warm-ups and he's going to put it between the pipes."

Gano tried to stay positive after the two misses which cost his team sole possession of first place in the division. He had missed only two field goals coming into the game.

"I just have to put it through the uprights," Gano said. "Given another opportunity, I'm confident I would've hit that kick again. It's tough. It hurts for sure. I know the fans are disappointed, the team's disappointed, but I don't think there's anybody more disappointed than I am right now."

Things we learned from the Falcons' 19-17 win over the Panthers:

CONSERVATIVE DEBATE: Panthers fans will likely spend Monday questioning the conservative nature of offensive coordinator Mike Shula's play-calling late in the game. After the Panthers reached the Falcons 32-yard line late in the fourth quarter with two completions by Cam Newton, Shula suddenly got conservative. The Panthers ran the ball three straight times and failed to pick up a first down. Carolina settled for a 46-yard field-goal attempt with 1:27 left, which Gano hooked left. "We forced them to use timeouts," coach Ron Rivera explained. "We ran what we felt were good runs. If we get the first down, great, we are closer. If not, they use all three timeouts. We make the field goal. We kickoff and now they don't have any timeouts."

WHITE REACHES MARK: Roddy White went over 10,000 yards for his NFL career on Sunday, finishing with eight catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. "Certainly he's shown great longevity throughout his career and has made a huge impact on my own career, so couldn't be happier for him. Now he's got to go get to 11,000," quarterback Matt Ryan said.

DOUGLAS STEPS UP: Harry Douglas stepped up late in the game as the Falcons drove for a go-ahead field goal. He had three catches for 29 yards helping set up Bryant's 44-yard field goal. The Falcons are hoping Douglas and Devin Hester can begin to take some of the pressure off Julio Jones and White as the season progresses. "There's never any pressure in those situations, Douglas said.

DAVIS CAN STILL PLAY: Not that there was any doubt, but Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis proved again that he has tremendous heart. Davis, who continues to play at a high level after overcoming three torn ACLs to the same knee, had a team-high 12 tackles and forced a key fumble on Hester in the second half that helped turn the game around when the Falcons were up 16-3 and driving for more points.

RUNNING GAME WOES: Down 16-3, the Panthers seemed to get a lift from running back Fozzy Whittaker, scoring on the first two possessions after he entered the game. Whitaker only ran three times for 11 yards, and Rivera was non-committal when asked if Whittaker will see more playing time moving forward. "With Fozzy, DeAngelo (Williams) and Jonathan Stewart we have a nice trifecta of running backs," Rivera said. "... It's a good combination of guys. They all bring something different to the table."

TOLBERT RETURNING: The Panthers will get Pro Bowl fullback Mike Tolbert back after the bye week. He has missed eight games on the injured reserve/designated to return list.


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