Falcons Put Down Panthers

The Atlanta Falcons jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half and never looked back, dismantling the Carolina Panthers, 31-10, to wrap up the NFC South title. Coach John Fox went out with a game to forget as his squad fell to 2-14.

The Falcons made a statement from the get-go. Atlanta took the opening kickoff and engineered a 10-play scoring drive capped off by a 6-yard strike from Matt Ryan to Tony Gonzalez. It was part of a big game by both players, with Ryan hitting 22-of-32 passes for 236 yards and two scores and Gonzalez catching six passes for 53 yards.

While Atlanta started fast, Carolina stumbled out of the gates. The Panthers went three-and-out on their first three possessions. The second possession ended in disaster, with Jason Baker's punt being brought back by Eric Weems 55 yards for a touchdown. That play put the Falcons ahead, 14-0, and essentially ended the competitive portion of the contest.

Roddy White, who set a franchise record for receiving yards in the fourth quarter, further put the game away by catching a 14-yard TD in the second quarter.

Michael Turner, who lost his second fumble in as many weeks midway through the first quarter, salted away the game with a 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

RB Tyrell Sutton
Kevin C. Cox/Getty
While all the Falcons stars were dancing in the end zone, the Panthers did not hit pay dirt until the final minute. Seven of Clausen's career-high 19 completions came on that final drive, including a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jeff King on Carolina's final offensive play of the year. Clausen finished the day 19-of-33 for 182 yards, one TD and one INT in what could very well be his final game as the Panthers' starting QB.

Cat Quicks

--Jonathan Stewart, who ran for 133 yards against the Falcons three weeks ago, was limited to 31 yards on 13 carries.

--Brandon LaFell authored one of Carolina's best plays of the season, taking a handoff on a double reverse and zipping through the defense for a 60-yard gain. LaFell also caught four passes for 63 yards, going over 100 yards from scrimmage for the first time.

--David Clowney caught two passes for 56 yards, including a 31-yard catch-and-run to set up Carolina's lone touchdown.

--Armanti Edwards returned two punts and finished with more fumbles (one) than return yards (zero). Although he recovered his muffed catch, this did not to prove he is ready to play on Sundays.

--Fellow kick returner Mike Goodson also fumbled, but the Panthers recovered that one as well.

--John Kasay was good on his only field-goal try, a 23-yard attempt on the opening drive of the second half.

--The Panthers lost time of possession by more than 10 minutes, 35:30 to 24:30. A big reason was Carolina's struggles on third down, where the Panthers converted just 3-of-13 tries (23 percent).

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Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and also a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.

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