CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Panthers interim head coach Chris Tabor has spent three years coaching Eddy Pineiro in Chicago and now Carolina, and his confidence level in the 28-year-old kicker is unwavering.

That's why Tabor had running back Chuba Hubbard intentionally take a dive before the goal line after picking up a first down, rather than trying to score a touchdown in order to run more time off the clock.

And it's why he had Bryce Young take a knee on three straight snaps before sending Pineiro on the field to win the game on a slick, rain-soaked field with :01 showing on the clock.

Pineiro rewarded his coach by calmly kicking a 23-yard field goal as time expired as the Panthers defeated Atlanta 9-7 amid a steady downpour Sunday, dealing the Falcons' playoff hopes a huge blow.

”We have a lot of confidence in our kicker," Tabor said. “We're on the 2- or 3-yard line, the ball right in the middle. I like our chances. And that way you end the game right there.”

It may have ended Atlanta's playoff hopes, too.

Atlanta (6-8) entered the game tied with New Orleans and Tampa Bay for first place in the NFC South, but now finds itself needing help to get into the postseason after the Saints and Buccaneers both won to improve to 7-7.

“This one stings," said Falcons coach Arthur Smith. “We’ve got to get back and find a way. We’ve got to get back in the win column. ... This was not the result we expected."

Young threw for 167 yards in his second NFL win and Hubbard ran for 87 yards on 22 carries for Carolina.

The Falcons led 7-6 and were driving for more points when Desmond Ridder threw into traffic and was intercepted at the Carolina 5 by safety Xavier Woods.

Young, who had struggled all afternoon, led the Panthers on a 17-play, 90-yard drive that took the final 7:35 off the clock.

The win snapped a six-game losing streak for the Panthers (2-12).

“I was really happy for our guys that they were able to break through,” Tabor said. “Sometimes you knock at the door all of the time and no one answers. And sooner or later, you have to kick it down. And we did that tonight.”

Ridder finished 12 of 22 for 152 yards with one touchdown and the one costly pick. Bijan Robinson also had a costly turnover for Atlanta in the second half.

Interest in the Panthers has long faded, and tickets were selling for $4 on internet resale websites before the game as bad weather moved in.

The Falcons broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter when Ridder connected with a wide-open Jonnu Smith for a 56-yard reception, setting up a 2-yard shovel pass to Cordarrelle Patterson.

Carolina had a chance to tie it late in the first half, but the drive ended in the red zone with Young taking his 50th sack of the season. The Panthers were forced to settle for Pineiro's 34-yard field goal, marking the fifth straight game they've scored just three points in the first half.

Late in the third quarter Troy Hill stripped Robinson of the ball and Brian Burns recovered at the Falcons 24. But the normally sure-handed Adam Thielen dropped a would-be touchdown pass and the Panthers had to settle for Pineiro's 25-yard field goal, cutting the lead to 7-6.

Ridder's ill-advised interception gave the Panthers one last chance.

“I've got to throw the ball and live to see another down,” Ridder said. “We’re all playmakers and we’ve got to try and make plays out there. We just all have to know the right time and right situation. That wasn’t it.”

Ridder said in hindsight he should have ran out of bounds.

“Anytime you’re throwing late over the middle, it’s probably not a great idea,” Ridde said. “Obviously trying to do too much.”

The pick gave the Panthers one last chance, and Young made the Falcons pay.

The No. 1 overall pick was 5 of 5 for 68 yards on the final drive, including 20-yard pass to fellow rookie Jonathan Mingo on third-and-3 to move the chains.

“We all have faith in each other and we all believe in each other,” Young said. “It was just a great opportunity. Being in the huddle and being able to look at each other, we all had the same look in our eyes. We all had confidence that we would be able to put it together.”


Panthers: cornerback Donte Jackson left the game early in the fourth quarter with a back injury after making a tackle on Drake London.


Falcons: Host Colts on Sunday.

Panthers: Host Packers on Sunday.



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