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Sep 30, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White (84) catches a pass against the Carolina Panthers during the fourth quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

Falcons vs. Panthers - Who Earned Their Wings

Every week I choose the five best Falcons players and award them with their ‘wings’ based on solid overall performance, big explosive plays, or a combination of both. Here are the five from Sunday:

Wide Receiver Roddy White- This list isn’t generally a ranked award, and this week is no different except for the first spot on today’s list. The other four guys on this list earned their wings, but White absolutely owned against the Panthers and was head and shoulders above the other players on the Falcons roster. Roddy collected 8 catches for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns, one a 49-yarder and the other good for a 14-yard score, but neither of them was his biggest catch of the game. That would be his 59-yard catch with under a minute to go that gave the Falcons lots of yardage and allowed them to set up for the game winning field goal. Without his outstanding performance, the Falcons don’t come away with the win. Roddy was nothing short of outstanding.

Quarterback Matt Ryan- Ryan threw an early interception and was constantly harassed by the Panthers pass-rush. He rarely had a clean pocket to work with, but despite that he still went 25-40, for 369 yards and 3 touchdown passes. Several times, Matt made something happen out of nothing, and that is an invaluable trait for a quarterback. He didn’t have his finest performance of the season, but he still posted a passer rating of 107. Don’t forget the most important stat that Ryan added to his resume: a game winning drive, and a 4th Quarter comeback. He also proved he can get the ball down the field very effectively by heaving it deep several times to great effect; nobody should question this man’s arm strength. Ryan continues to shine and be a play-maker on this team even when he’s not at his very best.

Runningback Michael Turner- Turner had been looking very rough both last season and the first two games of this season. Everyone seemed to be calling for him to be released, that his productivity had dropped off too much to be valuable, and that his off-field issues were detrimental to the organization. Before and after that, he has been nothing short of a model citizen. On the field, I don’t know how 13 carries for 103 yards and 3 catches for 68 yards is detrimental to the organization. Granted, the Panthers run defense isn’t particularly good, but with Turner running the ball effectively, they were able to keep more of the rush off of Ryan and set up the play-action pass. It was also good to see Turner take that short screen for such a monstrous touchdown. It was his first touchdown catch of his career, a milestone not to be sniffed at. Great, productive day for Michael Turner, he proved his continued value to the Falcons organization.

Kicker Matt Bryant- Special teams and the kicking game are often overlooked, but there are few kickers as solid in the NFL as the Falcon’s Bryant. He is extremely accurate, he has a strong leg, and he is just about as reliable as they come. It is not often that we truly recognize the value of kickers and honor them, but Bryant deserves it today. He made a 40-yard field goal with 10 seconds left on the clock, something that is difficult in any situation let alone the one he kicked in in against Carolina. A solid kicker is rarely appreciated until he screws up, and it’s high time we recognize a guy who is consistently solid and reliable.

Defensive End John Abraham- I’m not entirely sure any Falcons defender really deserves to be on this list, but if anyone should, it’s Abraham. He is better than your typical effort guy who merely succeeds because he has a high motor; Abraham is extremely talented. However, he was quiet for the majority of the day. But when the Falcons needed him at the end of the game, he answered the call of duty, and made things happen. He forced a fumble of Cam Newton, and while the Falcons weren’t able to recover it, it did force the Panthers to punt, which set up the game-winning score. Once the Falcons did score, the Panthers could have had one more opportunity to heave the ball down the field and emerge with a miracle ending; that, however, was vehemently denied when Abraham registered his only sack of the day and ended the game. Without those two defensive plays, the Panthers may have still come out with a win. Abraham earned his wings.

Which Falcons players do you think ‘earned their wings’?

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