CHARLOTTE, N.C.— Matt Ryan needed a while to figure out the last time he played for a team with a losing record.
“We had a bad basketball team when I was in high school,” Ryan said. “I think were we like 5-25.”
But losing has become the norm this season for Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, who lost for the fifth time in six games on Sunday, a 34-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
“It’s definitely difficult,” said Ryan, who was intercepted three times, one of which was returned 38 yards for a touchdown. “Turnovers and penalties are difficult to overcome. … We weren’t able to do that today. We’ve been able to do that at different times in the past, but we weren’t able to do that today.”
The optimism that once surrounded Atlanta’s season seems like a distant memory. Injuries, the lack of a running game and an inability to produce after the first quarter has hurt the Falcons all season.
And Sunday was no different.
Atlanta pretty much owns the first quarter, outscoring opponents 44-10. It’s the other three quarters that have been problematic. The Falcons have been outscored by a combined 198-132 after 15 minutes.
The Panthers outscored the Falcons 17-0 in the fourth quarter.
At 2-6, Atlanta’s playoff hopes are fading fast.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton threw for one touchdown and ran for another to overcome two first half interceptions. He passed for 249 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen, and also scored on an 8-yard run.
Newton entered on quite a streak, completing 77 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns — six passing and two rushing — and no turnovers in his previous three games.
The Panthers (5-3) pulled to a game behind the New Orleans Saints, who lost to the New York Jets.
The Falcons continued to struggle without receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. Tony Gonzalez had six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown but the running game struggled, with Steven Jackson and company held to a combined 78 yards on the ground. On defense, the Panthers limited Ryan to 219 yards passing.
“I know Matt. He’s going to look at this film. He’s going to obsess over it,” Gonzalez said. “I have no doubt he’s going to bounce back.”