Sep 30, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas (54) and defensive end John Abraham (55) tackle Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert (35) during the second half at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

4th & 1: Bane of the Falcons, Panthers existence

Think back to Week 10 of the 2011 season. The Atlanta Falcons were playing host to the New Orleans Saints, and they were tied at 23 going into overtime. The Falcons got the ball, and were unable to get a first down on their first three tries. Their defense had stopped Brees earlier in the overtime period, but rather than punt, the Falcons decided to go for it on a 4th & 1 from their own 29-yard line. You know the history: the Falcons were unable to convert, they left the Saints with a short field to get a field goal in overtime which would be a sudden death situation, which they eventually achieved. For days and weeks afterward, the decision to go for it was questioned, and for good reason. Perhaps the defense would have held up had the Falcons punted; maybe the result would have been the same. Hindsight is 20/20, and it didn’t work in the Falcons’ favor on that occasion.

A series of events eerily similar unfolded on Sunday in the Georgia Dome, only this time the Falcons came out on the winning end. The Panthers got a 4th & 1 on the Falcons 45-yard line. Cam Newton had already run a QB sneak, and fumbled. Carolina recovered the ball, but regardless, he was short of the first down marker. With a 6’5″, 250 lb behemoth of a quarterback who is great at leaping over the pile for the extra yard, one might think it would behoove the Panthers to go for it, maintain possession of the ball, and absolutely prevent the Falcons from having any opportunity to win the game by taking a knee and running out the clock.

Carolina head coach Ron Rivera did the smart thing and elected to punt the football. It worked out beautifully: the punt was downed at the Atlanta 1-yard line, meaning the Falcons would have to go 99 yards to get a touchdown, all without a timeout, and with an o-line that was very porous throughout the entire day. Even though Carolina didn’t run out the clock completely, there is no way they lose the game, right?

Even though Rivera did all the right things, there is no connection between the punt and the 59-yard bomb that Matt Ryan threw from his own endzone to Roddy White on the opposite 40 yard line that eventually set up the game winning field goal.

One thing it does do is make a person really think and scratch their heads. It really makes you think you’re damned if you do (go for it), and damned if you don’t (if you punt). More than anything else, it shows what an interesting game football is and how completely unpredictable the NFL really is. No team has any business getting a field goal starting on their own 1 with only 59 seconds left on the clock and no timeouts. The Falcons came out on the winning end of it this time, but history shows that in the end, the gods of football even everything out.


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  • Joey Riollano

    In no way was the decision to punt the right one. The Carolina Panthers are a team in need of a defining moment. Something to give them some confidence and momentum. I find it laughable that Rivera would even consider having punted.
    1st off let me say in no way did anyone in the Georgia Dome or for that matter on the Panther staff know the ball was going to be downed at the 1 yard line. The far more likely outcome was a touchback which would have put the ball at the 20 yard line.
    Irregardless of where the ball would have or did end up punting the ball gave the Falcons an opportunity to get into field goal range. Throughout the game Roddy White could not be covered. Nakamura nor Norman could do anything to stop him from getting open. This is why I am befuddled as to why we would punt. No doubt the Falcons are going to go deep to White because no one could cover him.
    Let’s see things from the Panthers offensive perspective. In your backfield you have the reigning NFL Rookie of the Year. He crushed the rookie passing yardage record and obliterated the NFL quarterback rushing touchdown record. He is without a doubt the best player on the field and arguably the best player in the NFL. Why would you take the ball out of his hands?? He did get the 1st down prior to fumbling on the 3rd down play. So why aren’t you going to line up and try it again. Think back to the prior weeks game. Cam caught all kinds of flack for how he acted during and after the debacle in Charlotte against the Giants. Rivera had his moment to define this season as well as show faith in the #1 draft pick from just a year ago. Keeping the ball in Cam’s hands would have also given Cam confidence in his standing with the coach. Even if, which is a big if, the Panthers had not gotten the 1st down on that fourth down play Cam’s confidence still gets a shot in the arm. The offense pretty much did whatever the wanted versus the Falcons defense. The offensive line played very well against the defensive front of Atlanta, so why risk punting and giving White and Matty Ice any type of chance. I just have a hard time understanding why take the ball out of the hands of the best player in the state of Georgia on that Sunday. Especially with the way Nakamura and Norman had played all day.
    Yes I’m a true Panther fanatic so the loss really stings. It’s 6 days later and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the decision to punt. Rivera is an inexperienced head coach. I just hope he learned from this game you gotta play the hot hand and on that day it was certainly Cam Newton.
    Can’t wait until the rematch in Carolina! Go Panthers!!!