ATLANTA (AP)—The Atlanta Falcons were down to their final play. They had the right guy for that perilous position.
Michael Vick ran for a 12-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal with less than 2 minutes left in regulation, literally flying through the air to get the Falcons to overtime. Jay Feely took it from there, kicking a 38-yard field goal for a 34-31 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Saturday night.
Atlanta snapped the Panthers’ five-game winning streak, a blow to the revitalized playoff hopes for the defending NFC champions.
In a game of amazing twists and turns, the Falcons (11-3) pulled off the final comeback. As usual, Vick was right in the middle of things.
“I was not frustrated after they took the lead,” he said. “It just motivated me to go out there and put points on the board to win.”
Carolina (6-8) got back into playoff contention after a 1-7 start, and the Panthers were as resilient as ever in this one, recovering from a pair of double-digit deficits.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Falcons defensive end Patrick Kerney said. “Even if we got up by 50, I figured they would fight and scratch and claw for the win.”
The Panthers went ahead for the first time with a 21-point fourth quarter, only to have the Falcons show they know a thing or two about bouncing back.
Dez White got the Falcons in position for the tying score with a dazzling 54-yard reception. He caught the ball along the sideline at the Carolina 40, spun around with one hand on the turf and sprinted all the way to the 5.
The Panthers knocked the ball away from Vick, but Michael Jenkins recovered for the Falcons at the 2. A holding penalty knocked Atlanta back, but Vick wasn’t done.
Vick spotted an opening up the middle and took off for the end zone, diving across with 1:37 remaining. The officials reviewed the play to see if Vick went down before he crossed the goal line, but replays showed that he somehow kept his left knee suspended about an inch above the turf as he stretched out for the end zone.
“Everyone else had their backs turned to me, so that is why I was able to make it to the end zone,” Vick said. “I was lucky to get in there.”
A couple of safe runs set up Feely, who connected on third down to put the Falcons on the brink of clinching the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
They wrapped up the NFC South the previous week, just the third division title in franchise history.
The Panthers’ remarkable turnaround left them sixth in the NFC—the final playoff spot—coming into the weekend. The defending conference champions are now a half-game behind St. Louis, which plays at Arizona on Sunday.
“This team has a lot of heart,” coach John Fox said. “They all fought hard. We just came up short.”
Vick had an erratic game, going just 11-of-28 for 154 yards with a couple of interceptions. On the flip side, he threw a pair of TD passes and ran eight times for 68 yards.
Delhomme was 24-of-35 for 340 yards, but he had two big fumbles and the game-deciding interception. Muhsin Muhammad had 10 receptions for 135 yards.
The Falcons jumped to a 10-0 lead, only to have the Panthers tie it up before halftime. Atlanta seemed to be in control after scoring on its first two possessions of the second half, but the Panthers responded with three straight TDs in the fourth quarter.
Brentson Buckner knocked the ball away from Vick, and Peppers grabbed it out of the air with one hand, sprinting the other way without being touched to tie it up with 10:09 remaining.
The Panthers quickly drove for their first lead of the night. Delhomme’s 43-yard pass to Keary Colbert was the big play, and Nick Goings ran 5 yards for a touchdown with 3:37 left in the fourth quarter.
That was enough time for Vick and the Falcons to make a comeback of their own.
Warrick Dunn gained 134 yards on 28 carries for the Falcons, both season highs. …The Falcons are 7-3-1 when Dunn gets at least 20 carries. … The Panthers have 26 takeaways in their last six games.