CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—Joey Harrington was briefly knocked out of the game and was face down on the winning score. Vinny Testaverde limped around, unable to will his soon-to-be 44-year-old body to a touchdown drive.
In an ugly day of football in the weak NFC South, Harrington’s guts to stay in the pocket was the difference.
Just before he was drilled to the turf, Harrington found Alge Crumpler over the middle for a 30-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left to give the Atlanta Falcons a 20-13 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in a game filled with little offense, mistakes and old-man jokes.
It may have lacked esthetics, but Harrington and the Falcons (3-6) will take it. After losing six of seven to start the season under the cloud of Michael Vick’s suspension, the Falcons won their second straight game and—gulp—may still have a chance in their struggling division.
“I felt better than I felt all year, knowing that we put the dive together to win that game,” said Harrington, who has recovered from being benched earlier in the season.
Harrington, who missed one play in the first half when he was shaken up after being hit by linebacker Thomas Davis, was drilled by Davis again just as he released the ball in the final minute. Crumpler, who returned after missing the previous two games with ankle and knee injuries, caught the short pass over the middle and sliced between safeties Chris Harris and Quinton Teal for the score.
Harris claimed the official got in the way on the play. Harrington, trying to pick himself up, never saw Crumpler reach the end zone.
“I listened to the crowd,” said Harrington, who in the first half caught his own batted pass and ran for a 4-yard gain.
It was part of bizarre day for the home crowd, which watched another home game slip away for the Panthers 4-5), who have lost three straight and six in a row at home dating to last season. But with Tampa Bay (5-4) idle and New Orleans (4-5) losing Sunday, everybody still has a chance in this division.
“We do look at the standings but we’ve got to make plays to generate points,” coach John Fox said.
The Panthers’ only touchdown came on Ken Lucas’ 27-yard fumble return.
Testaverde, who turns 44 Tuesday, was able to play after testing his sore right Achilles’ tendon in warmups. But Testaverde, struggling to move at times, was just 13-of-28 for 153 yards and the Panthers only got 59 yards rushing for DeShaun Foster.
“The Achilles’ was good enough to get me through the game,” Testaverde said. “The one word I can describe today as is disappointing.”
Testaverde did lead the Panthers on a late drive that led to John Kasay’s 31-yard field goal with 3:35 left to tie it. But on their next possession the Panthers went three-and-out. The Falcons then got the ball at the Panthers 45 after Adam Jennings’ 23-yard punt return to set up the winning score.
The stop was part a sweet day for the Falcons’ defense—and DeAngelo Hall in particular—after a 27-20 loss to Carolina in Week 3.
The cornerback who was called for 63 yards worth of penalties—including two personal fouls while jawing with Steve Smith on the Panthers’ game-changing TD drive in the first meeting—prevented a score on Carolina’s best chance.
Trailing 7-0 early in the second quarter, the Panthers went for it on fourth-and-inches from the Atlanta 20. Testaverde lofted a pass to the sideline and Smith made a leaping catch over Hall. But as Smith was trying to get to the end zone, Hall knocked the ball away. It rolled into the end zone and then squirted out of bounds for a touchback.
“It really didn’t hit me until I got to the sideline,” said Hall, who held Smith to five catches for 61 yards. “Not only did they not get the seven, but they didn’t get the three either.”
Testaverde joined Carolina’s long list of quarterbacks unable to get the ball to Smith. But Testaverde wasn’t the oldest player on the field, as 47-year-old Morten Andersen kicked two field goals for the Falcons, extending his NFL record to 2,504 career points scored.
Atlanta’s longest drive came on its first possession. The 70-yard drive was capped by Dunn’s 30-yard run up the middle. It was the longest run of the season for the 32-year-old Dunn, who had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season last week against San Francisco.
The Panthers tied it with their defense.
Rookie receiver Laurent Robinson, starting ahead of Joe Horn (hamstring), had the ball ripped away by Chris Harris, his fourth forced fumble of the season. Lucas scooped up the ball and bolted 27 yards for the tying touchdown.
Chris Redman completed a 9-yard pass on the one play he replaced Harrington. … Falcons rookie TE Martrez Milner was carted off late in the first half with an ankle injury and did not return. … Panthers S Deke Cooper left with an injured shoulder in the second half and was replaced by Teal.