Right tackle Tyson Clabo was partially responsible for the seven sacks Matt Ryan endured on Sunday. (US Presswire)

Until last Sunday, Atlanta’s offensive line had provided such good protection that Matt Ryan was completing a career-high 72 percent of his passes through three weeks. It’s no surprise that Sunday’s relentless pressure from the Panthers forced Ryan into his lowest percentage of the season (62.5) and just his second interception in 147 attempts. Ryan faced heat all day long, taking a career-high seven sacks and 12 hits throughout the eventual win.  

Despite the offensive line’s obvious shortcomings, coach Mike Smith thought there was plenty of blame to be dispersed.  

“When we don’t protect the passer, the first group that gets scrutinized is the offensive line,” Smith said at Monday’s press conference. “The running backs, the tight ends, the wide receivers, and the quarterback are all part of the success that we have or the successes that we don’t have, in terms of protecting the quarterback.”

Part of the problem was that starting fullback Lousaka Polite missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury and was replaced by backup Jason Snelling. The Falcons also used C Joe Hawley and G Mike Johnson in the fullback role to vary the offensive formations. All three were responsible when the Panthers brought extra rushers.

“It was something that gave us an advantage early in the ball game,” Smith said. “Especially early on, because it was a different personnel grouping.”

Even Roddy White, who had little to apologize for after finishing Sunday’s game with 169 yards and two touchdowns, accepted some of the blame for the seven sacks. White said that the receivers weren't getting open quick enough for Ryan.

“Roddy was probably alluding to the fact that there are times when they don’t break the route off and the quarterback is going to be left with nowhere to go with it and have to eat it,” Smith said.

Even though protecting the passer is a collaborative effort, RT Tyson Clabo needs to give more of a consistent effort than he did on Sunday. Charles Johnson, Clabo’s responsibility, finished with a career-high 3.5 sacks but despite their struggles, the offensive line regrouped and blocked well enough on the game’s decisive play to give Ryan enough time to heave a 59-yard pass to Roddy White.

“I thought our offensive line did a great job. We put certain guys in there specifically for that protection and they blocked it up and gave us an opportunity to shoot it down as far as we could,” Ryan said.

For a 4-0 team which has thrived in nearly every other facet, remedying the breakdowns and assessing blame is a lot easier following Sunday's thrilling win. 

Owens returning from concussion: Falcons cornerback Christopher Owens was cleared by doctors and will return to practice on Wednesday. Owens has missed the last two games after sustaining the concussion against Denver on Sept. 17. Robert McClain has filled in an played admirably at the position. Coach Mike Smith said Owens will have to earn his starting role back this week against Washington. 

For more Falcons coverage, follow Mike Singer @CBSFalcons.