By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — Matt Bryant kicked a 40-yard field goal with five seconds remaining and the Atlanta Falcons remained unbeaten, rallying past the Carolina Panthers 30-28 on Sunday.
The Falcons (4-0) are off to their best start since 2004, when they reached the NFC championship game. Despite taking a career-high seven sacks, Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes for Atlanta. Bryant added three field goals.
The Panthers (1-3) nearly clinched it on Cam Newton's run with just over a minute remaining, but he fumbled the ball while trying to dive for the necessary yardage. Carolina recovered and wound up punting, downing the ball at the Atlanta 1. But Ryan immediately got the Falcons out of the hole, throwing a 59-yard pass to Roddy White.
Four plays later, Bryant won it.
Ryan took an awful beating - he was hit nine times after throwing and hurried on eight other attempts - but still managed to throw for 369 yards. White caught a pair of touchdown passes, but his biggest play came after Carolina downed the ball in the shadow of the Atlanta end zone with 1:09 left.
The Falcons had no timeouts, so Ryan just stepped back and hurled one about as far as he could throw it. While was sandwiched between cornerback Josh Norman and safety Haruki Nakamura, but managed to leap over both of them to bring down the pass at the Carolina 40. A pass interference call and two short completions set things up for Bryant, who had yet to miss on his first eight attempts this season.
He was automatic again, even after the Panthers called their final timeout just before the snap looking to freeze him. Bryant went ahead and kicked it away - right through the uprights - then did it again when it counted, putting his kick straight down the middle to give Atlanta only the third 4-0 start in franchise history.
Newton threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score, rallying the Panthers from a 24-14 deficit in the second half. It looked like he had clinched it when, on third-and-2 at the Atlanta 46, he took the snap and bulled his way over the left side, his body surging across the spot he needed to seal the victory.
But John Abraham knocked it loose, the ball squirting backward. Fullback Mike Tolbert covered it for Carolina at the 45 - 1 yards shy of a first down. After attempting unsuccessfully to draw the Falcons offside, the Panthers punted it away. When they downed it at the 1, it looked as though they would still be able to preserve the win.
But Ryan and White had other ideas.
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