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Dwight Freeney to sign with Indianapolis Colts and retire

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INDIANAPOLIS — Pass-rush specialist Dwight Freeney is ending his NFL career in the place he started it.

Freeney, who brought havoc on quarterbacks for most of his 16-year playing career, will sign a contract with the Indianapolis Colts and then immediately retire.

The team will hold a news conference on Monday at 3 p.m. Eastern.

“He was a great player in every phase of the game,” said former Colts general manager Bill Polian, who drafted Freeney. “He was known as a great sacker, but he could play the pass and the run as well. Terrific run player. He gave you everything you had every week. And what made him even more special is that he did it while knowing teams were aiming to try to slow him down every week.”

Freeney immediately made his presence felt after the Colts picked him 11th overall in the 2002 draft. His 13 sacks as a rookie were the start of a string of four straight seasons in which he had at least 11 sacks. Freeney teamed up with Robert Mathis (123 career sacks) in 2003 to form one of the best pass-rushing duos in the NFL. Freeney had 107.5 sacks during his 11 seasons in Indianapolis.

“He and Robert were such great forces with that incredible pass rush,” Polian said. “You’re talking about two guys who had over 100 sacks in their career. That’s rare company. They both had an incredible gift.”

Freeney left the Colts after the 2012 season and had stops with the Chargers, Cardinals, Falcons, Lions and Seahawks.

His combination of using his speed and a spin move led to being selected to the Pro Bowl seven times and resulted in 125.5 career sacks, which is tied for 17th in NFL history.

Of the 17 players tied or ahead of Freeney on the all-time sack list, 11 are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Julius Peppers, who is ahead of Freeney, and Terrell Suggs, who is tied with him, are still playing in the NFL.

“Marvelous career,” Polian said. “Hopefully the next step is the Hall of Fame for Dwight.”

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Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan says win over Carolina Panthers may be ‘confidence builder’

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It has been a disappointing and, at times, embarrassing season so far for the Atlanta Falcons, but quarterback Matt Ryan wants to think that Thursday’s victory in Carolina could be the spark for yet another second-half surge.

The Falcons held on to a fourth-quarter lead for just the second time in five games in 2020 thanks to a Todd Gurley touchdown run and an interception by Blidi Wreh-Wilson and beat the Panthers 25-17 at Bank of America Stadium.

“I hope it’s the start of something,” Ryan said. “I really feel like, although we’re 2-6, I feel like we’ve been in some tight ones. We’ve played some good football. I think we can play some really tough football here in the second half of the season.”

The Falcons did that in 2019, following a 1-7 start with a 6-1 finish that included victories in the final four games. Can they repeat that over the next two months?

It won’t be easy. They have a winnable game against Denver next week, but after their bye they play New Orleans twice in a three-week span. Then there’s two games against Tampa Bay and one against Kansas City, as well, in addition to games against the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers. The Broncos and Chargers are the only opponents remaining with losing records.

“We’ve been in every game we’ve played this year,” Ryan said. “We’ve had some crazy losses, just to be frank, and I really believe that we’ve got the caliber of team to go be in the games we’re going to play the rest of the season.

“Why can’t we win them all? That’s the mindset that I have.”

The way the Falcons beat the Panthers gives Ryan hope. They overcame a 2-for-6 performance in the red zone and the loss of leading receiver Calvin Ridley to an ankle injury. The Falcons held a 13-minute advantage in time of possession, totaled 401 yards, held the Panthers to 2-of-10 on third down and sacked quarterback Teddy Bridgewater three times.

Ryan also pitched in with a 13-yard touchdown run, the longest of his career, to become just the third quarterback in franchise history to have double-digit rushing touchdowns. He trails only Michael Vick (21) and Steve Bartkowski (11).

Thursday was just the second time this season that the Falcons won a game in which they entered the fourth quarter with a lead. They had been 1-3 in that situation, including last week’s loss to Detroit on the game’s final play. The Falcons led the Lions 14-13 in the fourth quarter but Todd Gurley’s touchdown run left the Lions with too much time and Matthew Stafford’s TD pass to T.J. Hockenson gave the Lions a 23-22 victory.

That was just the latest — and most painful — fourth-quarter flop. The Falcons blew a five-point lead in Week 2 in a 40-39 loss to Dallas and a 16-point lead in Week 3 to Chicago.

Until the victory over the Panthers, the Falcons’ only hold on a fourth-quarter lead was two weeks ago against Minnesota.

“It just felt like it was going to be a different night,” Ryan said. “Our defense stepped up and did a great job making plays. I’m happy for them. To come through in that type of situation, that’s a confidence builder for us moving forward.”

And, Ryan hopes, the start of another second-half rally.

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Hit on Carolina Panthers’ Teddy Bridgewater draws ejection for Atlanta Falcons’ Charles Harris

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Atlanta Falcons defensive end Charles Harris was ejected in the third quarter of Thursday night’s 25-17 win over the Carolina Panthers after a vicious hit that briefly sidelined quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Bridgewater was scrambling on the third-and-7 play when he was tripped and went down for a 2-yard loss. Harris came in after Bridgewater was down and delivered a blow to the helmet.

Bridgewater went to the sideline tent to be checked for a possible concussion. He came out a few minutes later and began throwing on the sideline.

Bridgewater returned in the fourth quarter after clearing concussion protocol.

Former XFL star P.J. Walker took over at quarterback for three plays and the Panthers settled for a 39-yard field goal to pull within 19-17.

Bridgewater was 10-for-15 passing for 112 yards and a touchdown before the play.

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Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley ruled out vs. Carolina Panthers with ankle injury

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Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley suffered a left ankle injury during the first half of Thursday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.

Ridley was hurt when he was tackled by safety Jeremy Chinn at the end of a 19-yard catch-and-run late in the first half. He limped off the field and went to the locker room. He was originally listed as questionable to return but was ruled out early in the second half.

Ridley, who had three catches for 42 yards at the time of his injury, entered the game as the Falcons’ leader in receptions (40), receiving yards (615) and receiving touchdowns (six). The Falcons have relied on him heavily because Julio Jones had missed two games with a hip injury.

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