Final

Panthers 10

(2-14, 0-8 away)

Falcons 31

(13-3, 7-1 home)

Coverage: FOX

1:00 PM ET, January 2, 2011

Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA 

1 2 3 4 T
CAR 0 0 3 710
ATL 14 7 10 031

Top Performers

Passing: M. Ryan (ATL) - 236 YDS, 2 TD

Rushing: M. Turner (ATL) - 17 CAR, 67 YDS, 1 TD

Receiving: B. LaFell (CAR) - 4 REC, 63 YDS

Falcons win 1st South title since '04, earn home-field with NFC's No. 1 seed

Associated Press

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons, No. 1 in the NFC, embraced home-field advantage in the playoffs.

The Carolina Panthers, No. 1 in the NFL draft, said goodbye to their coach.

Matt Ryan and the Falcons put a decisive stamp on the NFC South title and the conference's best record by beating Carolina 31-10 on Sunday in John Fox's last game as Panthers coach.

The Falcons (13-3) earned their first division title since 2004 and a bye next weekend. Team owner Arthur Blank took a bath afterward as players dumped a cooler of liquid on him.

The Falcons had good reason to celebrate only their fourth division title: They are the No. 1 seed in the playoffs for the first time in 30 years.

One of coach Mike Smith's preseason goals was for the Falcons to "become relevant" in the NFL.

Mission accomplished.

"We're very relevant," Smith said after the win. "We've worked very hard to attain this position."

The Falcons have to wait a week to know who they will face on the weekend of Jan. 15-16. Roddy White, who had a touchdown catch, said all that matters is the Falcons know they'll play in the Georgia Dome.

"It's very important," White said. "We rarely lose in this building. We find a way to win here."

The Falcons are 20-2 in home games started by Ryan the last three years.

Carolina (2-14) had a weak finish to an awful season under Fox, finishing with the NFL's worst record. The league's worst offense was held without a touchdown until the final minute.

The Panthers on Friday formally announced Fox, the team's coach for nine years, and his staff will not return in 2011.

"It's been a heck of a run," Fox said. "A lot of good memories. I know I didn't finish like anybody wanted. I would have never expected to have a nine-year run. If I was given the chance to do it all over again, I would."

The Panthers were kept out of the end zone until Jimmy Clausen's 2-yard pass to tight end Jeff King with 23 seconds remaining. The rookie completed 19 of 33 passes for 182 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Carolina can now turn its attention to the search for a new coach and to the No. 1 pick in April.

"There was definitely a lot of emotion before and after the game," Clausen said. "I feel bad that we couldn't get a victory for coach Fox. It was an honor to play for him and I wish him the best of luck."

The Falcons will have a break at the start of the open week. The time off for Ryan and other starters came early, as backups took over in the fourth quarter.

Ryan passed for 236 yards with touchdowns to Tony Gonzalez and White, and Eric Weems scored on a 55-yard punt return. Ryan went 22 of 32 for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Chris Redman took over on Atlanta's first possession of the fourth quarter.

The Panthers managed only four first downs and 97 total yards in the first half as the Falcons led 21-0.

"We had to make a statement," said Falcons defensive end John Abraham. "We don't consider it the last game of the season but the first game of the playoffs. I'm just excited we're here."

The Falcons dominated the first half despite being stopped on two fourth-down plays.

Atlanta led 14-0 when fans encouraged Smith to leave his offense on the field for a fourth-and-3 play from the Carolina 4 early in the second period. Smith granted the wish, but Ryan couldn't connect on a pass for White.

On Atlanta's next possession, Ryan was stopped on a fourth-and-1 run from the Carolina 26.

Smith said confidence in his defense influenced his fourth-down decisions. Strong special teams play also helped.

Weems, a Pro Bowl selection on special teams, had his first career punt return for a touchdown after scoring on a kickoff return earlier this season.

"Once I was clean for the first 10 yards, I knew it would be a touchdown," Weems said.

Michael Turner added a 3-yard scoring run for Atlanta late in the third quarter, after John Kasay and Matt Bryant traded field goals.

Carolina's offense, last in the league in points, total yards and yards passing, was without leading receiver Steve Smith (calf injury).

Game notes


The Falcons only other division titles came in 1980, 1998 and 2004. They also were the NFC's top seed in 1980. ... Ryan's 33rd win matched Dan Marino's mark for most wins by a quarterback in his first three seasons since 1970. ... White passed Terance Mathis' team record of 111 catches in the 1994 season with 115. White also topped his team record for yards receiving in a season with 1,389. ... There was no immediate update on injuries to Falcons CB Brian Williams (knee) and LB Sean Weatherspoon. ... Ryan has at least one touchdown pass in 15 straight games. ... Gonzalez is tied for 10th with Don Maynard with 88 career touchdown catches.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Team Stat Comparison

 
CAR
ATL
1st Downs1224
Passing 1st downs
814
Rushing 1st downs
37
1st downs from Penalties
13
3rd down efficiency
3-134-11
4th down efficiency
0-10-2
Total Plays5671
Total Yards291352
Yards per play5.25.0
Total Drives1313
Passing154253
Comp - Att
19-3426-38
Yards per pass
4.56.7
Interceptions thrown
10
Sacks - Yards Lost
3-281-3
Rushing13799
Rushing Attempts
1932
Yards per rush
7.23.1
Red Zone (Made-Att)1-23-5
Penalties10-974-20
Turnovers21
Fumbles lost
11
Interceptions thrown
10
Defensive / Special Teams TDs01
Possession24:3035:30

Passing Leaders

CARC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Clausen19/331825.5113-28
LaFell0/100.0000-0
ATLC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Ryan22/322367.4201-3
Redman4/6203.3000-0

Rushing Leaders

CARCARYDSAVGTDLG
LaFell16060.0060
Stewart13312.4012
ATLCARYDSAVGTDLG
Turner17673.9116
Snelling8172.109

Receiving Leaders

CARRECYDSAVGTDLGTGTS
LaFell46315.80288
Clowney25628.00314
ATLRECYDSAVGTDLGTGTS
White66210.31148
Gonzalez6538.81228

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERCARATL
atlTD10:04Tony Gonzalez 6 Yd Pass From Matt Ryan (Matt Bryant Kick) 07
atlTD04:24Eric Weems 55 Yd Punt Return (Matt Bryant Kick) 014
SECOND QUARTERCARATL
atlTD00:51Roddy White 14 Yd Pass From Matt Ryan (Matt Bryant Kick) 021
THIRD QUARTERCARATL
carFG12:30John Kasay 23 Yd 321
atlFG09:46Matt Bryant 47 Yd 324
atlTD02:00Michael Turner 3 Yd Run (Matt Bryant Kick) 331
FOURTH QUARTERCARATL
carTD00:23Jeff King 2 Yd Pass From Jimmy Clausen (John Kasay Kick) 1031

Research Notes

Atlanta's Eric Weems just returned a punt 55 yards for a TD. He becomes the first Falcons player with a punt return TD and kick return TD in the same season.

ESPN Stats & Information