NFL Wire News

Panthers 34, Falcons 3


ATLANTA – Panthers quarterback Cam Newton accounted for two touchdowns and the Carolina defense dominated in a convincing 34-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

The Panthers (7-8-1) won the NFC South for the second straight season and head into the playoffs having won four straight. Carolina, the second team to reach the playoffs with a losing record, earned the No. 4 seed in the NFC and host a game in the wild-card round next week.

Panthers safeties Roman Harper and Tre Boston each returned interceptions for touchdowns, and linebacker Thomas Davis returned a fumble deep inside Falcons’ territory to fuel the rout.

The Falcons (6-10) will miss the postseason for the second straight year and head into an offseason that could bring abundant change. Just hours before kickoff, reports surfaced that the Falcons had already hired a search firm to help identify potential replacements for coach Mike Smith. It was odd timing, and the Falcons played like something was on their minds.

Harper picked off Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s overthrow late in the second quarter and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown to put the Panthers up 17-3 and jumpstart a chant of “Let’s go Panthers” in the Georgia Dome.

The Carolina defense struck again on the Falcons’ next possession, with Davis returning a fumble by receiver Roddy White 20 yards deep inside Atlanta territory.

Newton plowed in on the very next play and did his trademark Superman touchdown dance in the end zone with the Panthers in control 24-3. It was Newton’s 33rd rushing touchdown his career, tying him with John Elway, Otto Graham and Y.A. Tittle for 10th-most all-time by a quarterback in NFL history.

Newton completed 10 of 16 passes for 114 yards and the touchdown. He added 51 yards rushing, just 13 fewer than the Falcons had as a team.

Atlanta couldn’t get anything going offensively and struggled to protect Ryan, who was sacked six times. The three points is the fewest the Falcons have scored in a game since a 27-2 loss to the New Giants in a 2011 Wild Card game. Ryan completed 29 of 47 passes for 260 yards with no touchdowns and the two interceptions.

Kicker Matt Bryant’s 21-yard field goal in the second quarter accounted for the Falcons’ points.

NOTES: Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams missed his fourth straight game with a broken hand. Williams was listed as probable on Friday, but was ruled inactive before Sunday’s game. … Falcons RB Steven Jackson was inactive with a quad injury. RB Jacquizz Rodgers started in place of Jackson. … Panthers rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin went over 1,000 yards receiving on the season in the game. … The Falcons placed S William Moore (shoulder) on injured reserve. … Falcons S Dwight Lowery injured his knee in the first half and had to leave the game. … The 2010-11 Seattle Seahawks (7-9) were the first team to make the playoffs with a losing record. … Carolina is the first team two in the NFC South in consecutive years.

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