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Falcons vow to battle Panthers to bitter end

The SportsXchange

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons entered the 2013 season with visions of earning the franchise' first Super Bowl trophy.

With one game to play, all they want to do now is make sure that everyone shows up for the season finale and plays as hard as they did in a game effort against the San Francisco 49ers in Monday night's 34-24 loss.

The Falcons can play a role in deciding who will replace them as the champion of the NFC South when they face the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Things have not gone well for the Falcons as their revamped offensive and defensive lines have struggled. Pile on a boat load of injuries and you have their fall for Super Bowl contender to last place team in the NFC South.

They injuries just keep on coming as defensive tackle Corey Peters and safety Zeke Motta were placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.

Despite the all that has gone wrong, the Falcons want to take it to the Carolina Panthers, who kicked the Falcons in the head 34-10 on Nov. 3 in Charlotte.

"It's shouldn't be hard," safety William Moore said about being motivated for the Panthers. "It's the last game of the season. What are you saving it for?"

They have been playing for pride for a while now. They were the first team officially eliminated from the playoffs after starting 3-8.

"You have to put it out there," Moore said. "We are playing a division rival. It's going to be important for guys to come out, not only for the football team."

While there is speculation around town about a cleansing for the coaching staff, the Falcons players know they are fighting for their jobs, too.

"You have to protect your job," Moore said. "Everything. It defines you. This last game will define what type of person that you are and I know that we'll come out firing."

In the final game in historic Candlestick Park, the Falcons pressed the 49ers into the final minute before linebacker NaVorro Bowman intercepted a pass and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown.

"We did an excellent job on the run," Moore said. "That was our emphasis going into the game and we did a great job on the run in the first half. We tried to make them one-dimensional as far as throwing the ball."

The defense didn't hold up in the second half. Once the Falcons closed to 20-17, the 49ers ran the ball six straight times to cover 77 yards and earn a touchdowns. Kendall Hunter broke loose for a 45-yard run.

"In the second half, they didn't do anything different," Moore said. "They are just going to get some plays and they were feeding off those plays. That one play, we have to make the tackle and have communication all the way around. It was just one missed play and you see what happens."

In the third quarter, the defense started to slip as two third-down penalties kept 49er scoring drives alive.

"It's 3rd-and-19 and we get call like that," Moore said. "I don't know what to say. Our linebacker was in excellent position. We don't agree with everything, but they call the game. Stuff like that is unfortunate."

Linebacker Paul Worrilow, who called for shaky pass interference infraction, promised to be ready for the Panthers.

"This is a resilient group," Worrilow said. "You feel the sense of urgency. You fix what you can and come out and improve for the next game. It's coming fast. It's been a fast season. There have been a lot of learning curves. You have to take advantage of your time out there and you try to do the best that you can."

--Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez leads the team with 79 catches heading into the last game of his illustrious 17-year career.

He caught eight passes for 63 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers.

"Yeah, it was the same old story," Gonzalez said. 'It seems like the whole year, we're fighting, clawing and scratching, trying to put ourselves in position to go out there and get it done. We just couldn't come up with a play."

Gonzalez, who played collegiately at nearby California-Berkeley, had about 20 family members on hand for the game. The Southern California native wanted to win his final game in his home state.

"It's unfortunate," Gonzalez said. "It was a hell of a comeback. We had 'em right where we wanted them."

After Jason Snelling's recovery of the onside kick, the Falcons thought they'd pull out another late victory.

"The feeling inside that huddle was all positive," Gonzalez said. "There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to get the job done. It hurts real bad."

--DT Corey Peters ruptured his right Achilles against San Francisco and was placed on injured reserve and is scheduled for surgery. Falcons coach Mike Smith said it was a non-contact injury.

"This is going to be a tough offseason for Corey," Smith said. "The rehab time on an Achilles puts us close to the start of next season. He's going to have to get it going and hit it, but I know he will. I feel for Corey. It's tough injury to have especially at this time of season."

Also, Peters is scheduled to become a free agent.

--S Zeke Motta will have surgery to repair a fracture of the C1 vertebrae in his neck. Motta suffered the injury during Atlanta's 27-26 victory over the Redskins on Dec. 15. Smith said the recovery time for Motta's injury is 4-6 weeks. The rookie was placed on injured reserve.

--FS Thomas DeCoud returned to action after missing a game while in the league's concussion protocol program.

--RB Antone Smith (knee) played against San Francisco after being inactive against Washington.

--LB Sean Weatherspoon did not play against San Francisco after leaving the Washington game with a knee injury in the third quarter. He was listed as questionable for the game despite not practicing at all last week in another dubious injury report designation by the Falcons.
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