ATLANTA – They came off the sideline and circled Younghoe Koo. After a crazy, somewhat improbable game on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the reliable Atlanta Falcons kicker did what the franchise had made him one of the highest paid kickers in the NFL.
Koo hit a 41-yard field goal in overtime to give Atlanta a 37-34 victory over the Carolina Panthers, helping the franchise take a one-game lead in the NFC South where only the Falcons are at .500. Everyone is below.
That game, well, the Falcons won it, then lost it, then won it again. Twice.
In regulation, Atlanta held a six-point lead after a Koo field goal with 36 seconds left made it 34-28. Then a 62-yard Hail Mary touchdown from Carolina quarterback PJ Walker to receiver DJ Moore with 12 seconds left seemed to give the Panthers the win.
But Moore removed his helmet, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, fending off the extra point attempt by 15 yards. carolina kicker Eddy Pineiro missed the longest attempt, keeping the score 34-34 and sending the game into overtime.
In overtime, the Falcons got the ball back, but then the quarterback Marcus Mariota threw an interception to CJ Henderson which was returned 54 yards. The Panthers (2-6) were within easy field goal range for the win. But Pinero missed the field goal by 32 yards, reviving Atlanta (4-4).
In this division this season, one would have expected nothing less than the unexpected.
At the start of Week 8, there were only two other times in the four-division era — which began in 2002 — when no team in the division had been 0.500 or better: NFC East 2020 and the 2015 AFC South. Not a problem for the NFC South at the moment, as the Falcons are at .500.
Atlanta sits first in the division despite not going over .500 at any time this season. It’s the last time the Falcons have held the top spot in the division since 2016, the year the franchise last went to the Super Bowl.
It’s a far cry from Week 1, when the Falcons blew a 16-point second-half lead, and head coach Arthur Smith had a fiery press conference in which he spoke of people radiating and “burying” his team before the start of the season.
“We don’t care,” Smith said then. “We will get back to work.”
The Falcons, from then on, continued to show they believed in their sophomore head coach. Until last Sunday against Cincinnati, the Falcons had been competitive in every game they played despite a roster with the deadliest cap in the NFL — over $80 million, according to Roster Management System — and more than $9 million dollars in ceiling. place left on the list, too.
The Falcons have handed over nearly their entire roster since the days when Smith and the general manager Terry Fontenot took over in January 2021, including dropping franchise icons: quarterback matt ryan (traded to Indianapolis in March) and catcher Jules Jones (traded to Tennessee in 2021).
Yet for now, they hold the No. 1 spot in one of the most intriguing divisions in the NFL, where every team is less than two games from the top of the division.