ATLANTA — Matt Ryan took an awful beating. Another win for the Falcons will make the pain a lot easier to take.
Shaking off a career-high seven sacks, and with Atlanta starting its final drive on the 1-yard line, Ryan completed a 59-yard pass to Roddy White with 59 seconds left on Sunday to set up Matt Bryant's 40-yard field goal, keeping the Falcons undefeated with a wild 30-28 victory over the Panthers.
After squandering a 24-14 lead in the second half, the Falcons needed a crucial fumble by Cam Newton to even have a chance.
On the last drive Ryan had no timeouts, but he dropped back about as far as he could, threw it about as far as he could, and relied on White to go up and make the catch.
White did, between two defenders.
Bryant's kick won it with 5 seconds remaining.
"We made the plays when we needed to," said Ryan, who passed for 369 yards and three scores. "That's what you need to do week to week in this league."
The Falcons are 4-0 for the first time since 2004, when they reached the NFC Championship Game, and lead the South by three games.
This was their stiffest challenge yet.
"That was exciting. Whew!" coach Mike Smith said. "Every time it looked bleak, every time it looked like we didn't have a chance, we were able to overcome it."
Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for one but he let the ball slip away when it looked as though he had clinched the victory for Carolina.
"You have to protect the football," Newton said. "That was a key focus going into this game, and I fumbled."
On third and 2 at the Atlanta 46, Newton took the snap and bulled over the left side, across the first-down marker. On the sideline, several Panthers broke into a celebration. But John Abraham had knocked the ball loose and Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert recovered at the 45 — 1 yard shy of a first down. After failing to draw the Falcons offside, the Panthers punted.
After White's long catch, a pass interference call and two short completions made it easier for Bryant, the former Bucs kicker.