- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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Matty iced: It's unusual to see Matt Ryan put together consecutive poor performances like he did against Arizona and Carolina. Ryan had three interceptions Sunday after throwing four in a loss to the Cardinals the week before. Some might blame unproven receiver Drew Davis' route running for Ryan's pick-six on Sunday, but Ryan probably shouldn't have thrown it. On the other two, Ryan tried to squeeze the ball in with multiple defenders covering his target. It looks like Ryan is trying to overcompensate without Julio Jones and Roddy White in the lineup. "Really, all three of the interceptions, I think, are a case of being aggressive and trying to get the ball in spots," Ryan said. "But I don't see it as pressing. I think that, [I'm] trying to give our guys opportunities. I didn't put the first one in a very good spot. And the second one, the ball kind of just bounced around. ... I've just got to be more efficient with what I'm doing and know that, at the quarterback position when you're playing in tight games, if you turned the football over, it's going to be tough to overcome."
Future on the line: The Falcons made a statement by sliding Lamar Holmes back over to right tackle upon left tackle Sam Baker's return to the lineup. Holmes had started on the left side in place of Baker the previous three games but supplanted veteran Jeremy Trueblood on Sunday. It was Trueblood who took Holmes' starting job at right tackle in Week 4. The Falcons firmly believe Holmes has Pro Bowl potential despite his noticeable mistakes, which included being flagged for illegal formation against the Panthers. The line actually did a solid job pass protecting Sunday while allowing just one sack. But the Falcons' running blocking still needs much work. Holmes, who needs work in both areas, talked about being back on the right side. "I welcome any opportunity they give me to play," he said. "I played decent, for the most part. But I really won't know until we get in there and watch the film."
Foul play: Speaking of Holmes' illegal formation penalty, the Falcons finished with seven penalties for 59 yards on Sunday. The most costly were a holding call on guard Garrett Reynolds that wiped out a Steven Jackson touchdown run and a 12 men on the field penalty whistled against the defense on a third-and-1 play during the drive that ended with Cam Newton's 8-yard touchdown run. "The penalties were critical," coach Mike Smith said. "Those things are unacceptable."
Third downer: Once again, the Falcons failed themselves on third down. Defensively, they allowed the Panthers to convert 8 of 14 third downs (57 percent). The Falcons let Newton be "Superman" on a third-and-12 play when Newton avoided pressure from Osi Umenyiora, Paul Worrilow and Asante Samuel and completed a pass to Steve Smith for 23 yards. On a third-and-8, Desmond Trufant was whistled for pass interference to keep a drive alive. And on a third-and-6, the Panthers picked up 30 yards on that strange play in which Samuel gave up a big gain to receiver Brandon LaFell then caused a fumble that fell into Lafell's hands after Robert Alford couldn't corral it. Offensively, the Falcons were 4-of-10 on third down.
Holding on: Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who caught a pass in his 203rd consecutive game, torched the Panthers for five receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown in the first half. Gonzalez had just one catch for 4 yards in the second. The Panthers threw every look they could at Gonzalez, but nothing compared to the way middle linebacker Luke Kuechly scored a takedown of Gonzalez in the end zone early in the game. Gonzalez, who later beat Kuechly for a touchdown, had no complaints about the initial play. "I was pushing off a little bit, too," Gonzalez admitted. "Just two pros going at it. And they're going to get physical, too. And the way I feel about it, yeah, they better get physical. Otherwise, I'm going to eat you up." Gonzalez was more concerned about how the offense performed as a whole. "Well, I think I had optimism for good reason because I thought we came out and played pretty well up until the fourth quarter," he said. "The fourth quarter for us was not the way we play football. It was a disaster."