The game took a dramatic turn on the first drive of the game, as Panthers cornerback Richard Marshall picked off a Matt Ryan third-down pass and returned it to the end zone. There was a flag on the play, however, as Julius Peppers was flagged for a questionable roughing the passer penalty, giving the Falcons a fresh set of downs.
The Panthers defense held strong all day, holding Falcons running back Michael Turner, the league’s leading rusher coming into the game, to just 56 yards on 18 carries. Falcons rookie quarterback Ryan could not produce any sort of sustained drive for Atlanta, who only managed three Jason Elam field goals in the box score.
Jake Delhomme led the Panthers on offense, completing 20-of-29 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie running back Jonathan Stewart reached the end zone again, scoring the Panthers' first touchdown of the game in the first quarter.
Muhsin Muhammad was Delhomme’s favorite target, catching eight passes for 147 yards and a touchdown.
Delhomme hit five different receivers on his way to a 124.8 quarterback rating for the afternoon.
Steve Smith, in his first home game this season since coming off a suspension, caught six passes for 96 yards and a key 56-yard touchdown reception before halftime.
After his touchdown Smith spiked the ball emphatically, sending the ball soaring into the stands. After the celebration, he went over to the fans that caught the ball and asked for it back. The fans obliged, and Smith took the ball over to teammate Ken Lucas, a gesture that shows the world that the problems that caused the pair’s training camp brawl that had Smith suspended are behind them.
The Panthers took most of the momentum to the locker room after Smith’s touchdown catch, and it carried over through the break, as the Falcons could muster only a field goal the rest of the way.
Peppers and rookie Hilee Taylor notched sacks for the Panthers, who allowed just 268 yards of total offense to the Falcons.
A lingering problem for the Panthers has been penalties—especially on offense. The Panthers were whistled for four more false starts Sunday, in which they lead the NFL. The Panthers were called for 11 penalties in all for 90 yards.
The Panthers suffered two key injuries on the offensive line, losing both Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah.
Gross was knocked out on a play in the first quarter and laid motionless on the field for a while before eventually standing up and sitting on the back of a cart and being taken back into the locker room. The official word on his condition is a concussion and the team will evaluate him throughout the week to determine his status.
Otah suffered an ankle strain and said after the game that he was going to “ice it and get ready for next Sunday.”
The win puts the Panthers at 3-1 for the first time since 2003, when they went to the Super Bowl.
New Orleans also won Sunday, to put them at 2-2 on the year and tied with the Falcons behind the first place teams.
The Panthers move on to face the Kansas City Chiefs, coming off of their first victory of the season Sunday over previously-undefeated Denver. The Panthers will face their fifth straight All-Pro level running back to open the season when they see the Chiefs’ Larry Johnson next Sunday.
The Falcons will travel to Lambeau Field next week to take on the Packers.