Panthers' playoff hopes dealt serious blow

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Falcons were down to their final
play. They had the right guy for that perilous position.

Michael Vick ran for a 12-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal with
less than 2 minutes left in regulation, literally flying through
the air to get the Falcons to overtime. Jay Feely took it from
there, kicking a 38-yard field goal for a 34-31 victory over the
Carolina Panthers on Saturday night.

Atlanta snapped the Panthers' five-game winning streak, a blow
to the revitalized playoff hopes for the defending NFC champions.

In a game of amazing twists and turns, the Falcons (11-3) pulled
off the final comeback. As usual, Vick was right in the middle of

"I was not frustrated after they took the lead," he said. "It
just motivated me to go out there and put points on the board to

Carolina (6-8) got back into playoff contention after a 1-7
start, and the Panthers were as resilient as ever in this one,
recovering from a pair of double-digit deficits.

"It doesn't surprise me," Falcons defensive end Patrick Kerney
said. "Even if we got up by 50, I figured they would fight and
scratch and claw for the win."

The Panthers went ahead for the first time with a 21-point
fourth quarter, only to have the Falcons show they know a thing or
two about bouncing back.

Dez White got the Falcons in position for the tying score with a
dazzling 54-yard reception. He caught the ball along the sideline
at the Carolina 40, spun around with one hand on the turf and
sprinted all the way to the 5.

The Panthers knocked the ball away from Vick, but Michael
Jenkins recovered for the Falcons at the 2. A holding penalty
knocked Atlanta back, but Vick wasn't done.

Vick spotted an opening up the middle and took off for the end
zone, diving across with 1:37 remaining. The officials reviewed the
play to see if Vick went down before he crossed the goal line, but
replays showed that he somehow kept his left knee suspended about
an inch above the turf as he stretched out for the end zone.

"Everyone else had their backs turned to me, so that is why I
was able to make it to the end zone," Vick said. "I was lucky to
get in there."

Carolina won the coin toss in overtime, only to have Jake
Delhomme overthrow Ricky Proehl down the middle. Aaron Beasley made
the interception and returned it 30 yards to the Carolina 23.

A couple of safe runs set up Feely, who connected on third down
to put the Falcons on the brink of clinching the No. 2 seed in the

They wrapped up the NFC South the previous week, just the third
division title in franchise history.

The Panthers' remarkable turnaround left them sixth in the NFC --
the final playoff spot -- coming into the weekend. The defending
conference champions are now a half-game behind St. Louis, which
plays at Arizona on Sunday.

"This team has a lot of heart," coach John Fox said. "They
all fought hard. We just came up short."

Vick had an erratic game, going just 11 of 28 for 154 yards with
a couple of interceptions. On the flip side, he threw a pair of TD
passes and ran eight times for 68 yards.

Delhomme was 24 of 35 for 340 yards, but he had two big fumbles
and the game-deciding interception. Muhsin Muhammad had 10
receptions for 135 yards.

The Falcons jumped to a 10-0 lead, only to have the Panthers tie
it up before halftime. Atlanta seemed to be in control after
scoring on its first two possessions of the second half, but the
Panthers responded with three straight TDs in the fourth quarter.

Kris Mangum caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Delhomme, then
Julius Peppers stunned Vick with a 60-yard fumble return for a

Brentson Buckner knocked the ball away from Vick, and Peppers
grabbed it out of the air with one hand, sprinting the other way
without being touched to tie it up with 10:09 remaining.

The Falcons regained the momentum with some trickery on the
ensuing kickoff. Allen Rossum flipped a lateral pass to DeAngelo
Hall, who went 48 yards before being shoved out of bounds.

Alge Crumpler fumbled that chance away at Carolina 22. Artrell
Hawkins knocked the ball away and Dan Morgan recovered.

The Panthers quickly drove for their first lead of the night.
Delhomme's 43-yard pass to Keary Colbert was the big play, and Nick
Goings ran 5 yards for a touchdown with 3:37 left in the fourth

That was enough time for Vick and the Falcons to make a comeback
of their own.

Game notes
Warrick Dunn gained 134 yards on 28 carries for the
Falcons, both season highs. ...The Falcons are 7-3-1 when Dunn gets
at least 20 carries. ... The Panthers have 26 takeaways in their
last six games.


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