Defense shines, Panthers snap skid by beating Falcons 19-13
ATLANTA (AP) — Chuba Hubbard’s first carry was about as bad as it gets.
A fumble recovered by the Atlanta Falcons.
The Carolina Panthers running back was feeling a lot better by the end of the game Sunday.
Zane Gonzalez kicked four field goals and Hubbard scored on a 6-yard run with 6 1/2 minutes remaining to seal Carolina’s 19-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons, snapping a four-game skid for the Panthers.
Hubbard wasn’t flustered after Deion Jones stripped the ball from him on the very first play from scrimmage, leading to a Falcons’ field goal.
“What’s next?” Hubbard said, describing his state of mind. “Whether it’s a high or a low, I’m moving on.”
He certainly moved on, along with a Carolina offense that ran the ball time and time again to make things easier on embattled quarterback Sam Darnold.
Carolina rushed for 203 yards, led by Hubbard with 82 yards on 24 bruising carries. Darnold chipped in with 66 yards on the ground — the second-best rushing performance of his career — before being knocked out of the game with a concussion.
“This is probably what we should’ve done last week,” coach Matt Rhule said.
Carolina’s defense totally stuffed Matt Ryan and the Falcons, who managed a measly 213 yards total offense.
Stephon Gilmore, in his first game with the Panthers, and Shaq Thompson, in his return from a foot injury, both had key interceptions.
Ryan had one of the worst games of his career, held to 146 yards passing with three sacks — plus a bloody hand after a Carolina defender stepped on it.
Atlanta (3-4) had won two straight games, only to squander a chance to climb above .500 for the first time since 2017.
“They came in here, they ran the ball, they shortened the game,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “We didn’t do enough on offense.”
Darnold bounced back from a benching in a 25-3 loss to the New York Giants with a performance that was good enough to win for Carolina (4-4).
He threw for a mere 129 yards on 13 of 24 completions but made none of the glaring miscues that raised questions about his job security.
Unfortunately for Darnold, the last of his runs knocked him out of the game in the fourth quarter.
On an 8-yard bootleg deep in Atlanta territory, Darnold took a brutal shot from Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun that nearly knocked his helmet off, leaving P.J. Walker to finish the game.
Walker overcame an ill-advised pass into the end zone, which was ruled incompletion rather than an interception. Rhule was not pleased at all with the decision to flip the ball into a crowd of defenders.
“He yelled at me, and I yelled back,” Walker said with a smile.
All was forgiven when Hubbard burst up the middle for Carolina’s only TD.
To that point, Gonzales had provided the rest of the points on field goals of 29, 51, 57 and 23 yards. The 57-yarder was the longest of his career.
“I knew this was a game where every point mattered,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t want to be the reason we lost.”
Younghoe Koo had a chance to put Atlanta ahead in the fourth quarter, but his 45-yard field-goal attempt was wide right.
It was his first miss of any kind this season. Koo had been 11 of 11 on field goals, hitting from 46 yards for Atlanta’s first points after Hubbard’s fumble, and perfect on 14 extra points.
Cordarrelle Patterson scored Atlanta’s lone touchdown, turning a short pass into a 15-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
Koo booted a 53 -yard field goal with 16 seconds remaining, but the Panthers recovered an onside kick to seal the victory.
A surprise scratch just before kickoff, Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley issued a statement during the game saying he was dealing with mental health issues and needed to take a break from football.
It was the second game he has missed his season to deal with what the team had described as a personal matter. He also stayed home when the Falcons defeated the New York Jets in London on Oct. 10.
Ridley posted a statement on social media saying he needed “to step away from football at this time to focus on my mental wellbeing.” He thanked the Falcons for their understanding and gave no timetable for a return to the team.
Panthers: Rhule isn’t sure how much time Darnold will miss with his concussion. “If he’s out long term, we’ll probably have to go find someone who can play with P.J.,” the coach said. … WR Robby Anderson took a big hit from Falcons S Erik Harris but returned to the game a few plays later. … LB Jermaine Carter Jr. also returned after being evaluated for a possible concussion.
Falcons: Ryan sustained the cut on his left (non-throwing) hand when Panthers DE Morgan Fox stepped on it in the second quarter. Ryan was bleeding badly but finished the possession, using a towel to wipe off the blood. After throwing an interception, he was taped up on the sideline and played the rest of the game with a black glove on his left hand.
Panthers: Return home next Sunday after two straight road games to host the New England Patriots.
Falcons: Travel to New Orleans next Sunday for their second straight NFC South game against the Saints.
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By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer