Ryan lead Falcons to 40-20 win over Panthers


ATLANTA, GA – DECEMBER 8: Devonta Freeman #24 celebrates his touchdown with Matt Ryan #2, and Kenjon Barner #38 of the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of the game against the Carolina Panthers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 8, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons honored one of their greatest receivers at halftime.

Then a guy few people have ever heard of snatched away the spotlight.

Olamide Zaccheaus hauled in the longest touchdown pass of Matt Ryan’s career, a 93-yarder that propelled the Atlanta Falcons to another dominating win over the Carolina Panthers, 40-20 on Sunday.

It was the first catch of the undrafted rookie’s career — and came not long after the Falcons inducted Roddy White into their ring of honor during a halftime ceremony.

Before Sunday, White had been on the receiving end of Ryan’s longest scoring play, a 90-yarder against San Francisco in 2009.

“I told O.Z. that he stole some of Roddy’s thunder,” Ryan joked. “I’m so happy for O.Z. He’s a guy who’s worked extremely hard. He stepped up when his number was called. He knew his assignment and he broke a tackle, which was impressive.”

The game turned at the end of the first half and beginning of the second.

The Panthers made it 10-10 with just over a minute to go before halftime, but the Falcons (4-9) quickly drove into position for Younghoe Koo’s 35-yard field goal on the final play.

After Carolina’s Kyle Allen fumbled the ball away on a blind-side hit by Vic Beasley to start the third period, the Falcons replied with a 46-yard drive capped by Devonta’ Freeman’s 13-yard touchdown run that made it 20-10.

Then it was Ryan delivering the pass from his own end zone that finished off the Panthers.

The 5-foot-8 Zaccheaus beat Donte Jackson, hauled in the throw near the midfield logo, shook off Jackson’s desperate grab and breezed to the end zone, with Jackson sprawled out on the turf behind him and no other Carolina player around.

“We were backed up,” Zaccheaus said. ”I just had a one-on-one that I had to win. I just had to find ball and make a play for the team.”

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.

“I don’t think there’s one person that’s going to fix all this,” running back Christian McCaffrey said. “It’s a collective effort and once again we’ve just got to do a better job of executing and stop making it complicated on ourselves.”

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