Falcons beat Panthers in crazy overtime battle, secure first place in NFC South

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The Falcons are all alone in first place in the NFC South.

With a hard-fought 37-34 overtime win over the Panthers today, the Falcons are now 4-4 and in first place in the division, one game ahead of the Buccaneers and Saints, and two games ahead of the Panthers.

The win didn’t come easily: Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks has his team playing hard, and deserves credit for continuing to compete after the season appeared to be over following the firing of Matt Rhule. The Panthers were in this game until the end.

The late fourth quarter featured a sensational 47-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Damiere Byrd that gave the Falcons the lead, followed by an equally sensational 62-yard touchdown pass from PJ Walker to DJ Moore that should have given the Panthers the lead back — except that Moore was penalized 15 yards for taking his helmet off, and the Panthers kicker Eddy Pineiro missed the subsequent extra point, sending the game into overtime.

In overtime, Mariota threw an interception that CJ Henderson returned 54 yards to set up a game-winning field goal attempt, but Pineiro missed that as well. On the ensuing drive, a 30-yard Mariota run got the Falcons into field goal range, and they hit the game winner.

Will the Falcons stay on top in the NFC South? The smart money is probably on the Buccaneers to rally during the second half of the season and win the division. But the Falcons aren’t going to go away quietly. In a weak division, they’re real playoff contenders.

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