Tim Dwight took the opening kickoff all the way to the end zone, and the Atlanta Falcons never looked back.
Dwight put Atlanta ahead just 15 seconds into the game with a 93-yard kickoff return, and the Falcons scored their most points in 25 years with a 51-23 rout of the winless Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
"That was a basic textbook return," he said. "It opened up real well and all I had to do was run through."
Atlanta (3-1) scored three touchdowns in a 48-second span of the third quarter. Carolina fumbled on its first three possessions of the second half and finished with six turnovers.
Dwight set the tone when he took John Kasay's opening kickoff at the 7, cut through a gaping hole on the left side and cruised all the way to the end zone. The Panthers' coverage was so poor only one defender even got a hand on Dwight.
After leading 17-3 at halftime, the Falcons blew out the Panthers in the third quarter by scoring three TDs on four plays from scrimmage.
The spurt started when fullback Bob Christian scored the first rushing touchdown of his seven-year career on a 1-yard plunge with 6:27 remaining.
On the Panthers' first play after the kickoff, Fred Lane fumbled and Travis Hall recovered at the Carolina 26. Atlanta scored on the next play when Chris Chandler hooked up with O.J. Santiago on a touchdown pass with 6:01 left.
Astonishingly, Carolina fumbled once again on its next play from scrimmage without getting touched by the Falcons. Kerry Collins threw to Muhsin Muhammad, who stumbled over his own feet and lost the ball when he hit the ground. William White simply picked up the ball and ran 18 yards for another Atlanta TD with 5:39 to go.
| Jamal Anderson (32) ran past the Panthers' defense for 117 yards and a touchdown. (AP) |
"At first, I didn't even think it was a fumble. I just picked it up out of habit," White said. "But Jessie (Tuggle) told me to run, so I ran."
White returned an interception 36 yards to set up the Falcons' final score, a 28-yard field goal by Morten Anderson with 43 seconds remaining. That gave Atlanta the second-most points in franchise history, eclipsed only by a 62-7 victory over New Orleans in the 1973 opener.
The Panthers (0-4), who won the NFC West just two years ago while the Falcons were going 3-13, lost to Atlanta for the second time this season and gave up the most points in the franchise's four-year history.
"Winless is a position that I've never been in before," defensive end Jason Peter said. "They just kept hitting us right in the chops and we kept taking it. The mentality of this team better change in a hurry. If not, it's going to be a long season."
Kerry Collins completed 20-of-38 for 302 yards and three touchdowns, including a 72-yarder to Muhammad, but the scoring passes came after Atlanta built a 38-3 lead.
"What can you really say about a game like that?" said Collins. "We're bad. We're really bad. We're embarrassed."
Atlanta's Jamal Anderson rushed for 117 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown.
"It was awesome," said Anderson. "I was thinking, `Please, coach, don't take me out."'
Following Dwight's opening touchdown, Atlanta scored again just six minutes later. On third-and-6 at the Carolina 30, Chandler rolled away from the rush and hit Tony Martin on a scoring pass down the middle.
The teams traded field goals -- Kasay hitting a 28-yarder, Andersen connecting on a 23-yarder -- to leave the Falcons with a 14-point lead at the half.
Andersen's field goal was set up by some Atlanta razzle-dazzle. Dwight took the handoff on a reverse, then threw back to Chandler for a 22-yard completion.
Chandler completed 12-of-20 for 189 yards before he was replaced with five minutes to go by 44-year-old Steve DeBerg, making his first appearance since 1993 and the oldest NFL player since George Blanda.
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