ATLANTA, GA – Matt Ryan threw the longest touchdown pass of his career and became the 10th quarterback in NFL history to reach 50,000 yards, leading the Atlanta Falcons to another dominating win over Carolina, 40-20 Sunday.
The Panthers (5-8) were officially eliminated from playoff contention with their fifth straight loss, which ruined the debut of interim coach Perry Fewell. He took over at the beginning of the week after longtime coach Ron Rivera was fired.
Atlanta (4-9) snapped a two-game losing streak and swept the season series with their I-85 rival. The Falcons won the first meeting 29-3 at Charlotte on Nov. 17.
Throwing from his own end zone, Ryan finished off the Panthers with a 93-yard touchdown pass to little-used Olamide Zaccheaus in the third quarter. It was a milestone play for both — the longest TD of Ryan's 12-year career, and the first career reception for Zaccheaus, an undrafted rookie.
Fewell and the Panthers endured a thoroughly miserable game. Kyle Allen was picked off twice and lost a fumble. Carolina fumbled another one away on a kickoff return, the ball deflecting into the arms of kicker Younghoe Koo, setting off a wild celebration as Koo bounced toward the sideline.
Koo also booted four field goals, including a 35-yard field goal on the final play of the first half put the Falcons ahead to stay at 13-10. The home team thoroughly dominated the final two quarters, outscoring Carolina 27-10 while piling up a season high for points.
Devonta' Freeman's 13-yard touchdown run extended Atlanta's lead, before Ryan delivered the pass to Zaccheaus that finished off the Panthers. The 5-foot-8 rookie beat Donte Jackson, hauled in the thrown near the midfield logo and breezed to the end zone, with Jackson sprawled out on the turf behind him and no other Carolina player around.
Ryan finished 20 of 34 for 313 yards, also throwing a 15-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley late in the second quarter.
Ryan increased his passing total to 50,279 yards. His next target on the career list is John Elway, the NFL's ninth-leading passer with 51,475 yards.
Allen connected with Ian Thomas on a 1-yard scoring pass and tacked on a meaningless touchdown in the closing minutes with a 1-yard dive.
Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant added another ailment to his injury plagued year.
Trufant went out in the first half with a forearm injury and didn't return. He already missed four games this season with a toe injury.
Ridley also left the game with abdominal pain, while the Panthers lost backup linebacker Marquis Haynes with a knee injury.
Carolina: Return home next Sunday to face the Seattle Seahawks in the penultimate home game of the season.
Atlanta: Head west Sunday to meet the San Francisco 49ers, who are coached by former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
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