Michael Turner ran for 117 yards and four touchdowns and unlikely hero Harry Douglas added two more scores -- one on a reverse and another on a 61-yard punt return -- as the Falcons slapped 28 fourth-quarter points on the Panthers to end a four-game winning streak.
"We need to start faster," said quarterback Jake Delhomme. "We need to have that edge, that sense of urgency when we come out. For some reason the last couple of weeks it was slow. And we need to get it because it doesn't get any easier from here on out."
The loss dropped the Panthers to 8-3 and into a tie for first place in the NFC South with Tampa Bay, although the Bucs hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. If the season ended today, the Bucs would win the division and the Panthers would be a wild-card team.
The win pulls the upstart Falcons (7-4) to within a game of the division leaders.
Nobody really seemed to have an explanation for the team's recent slow starts.
"You really can't look at any stats and say, 'Hey, you know what, why are we starting slow?" Beason said. "I can't put a finger on it. We just need to start playing with a sense of urgency, come out and play like we're losing, play like it's the fourth quarter, play like it's fourth-and-inches. That's the bottom line -- top to bottom, offensively, defensive and special teams, we've got to play better. We can't go out there and throw down our helmets and expect people to lay down for us."
It was the second straight week the Panthers have started slow on both sides of the ball. Against Detroit, the Panthers gained just 10 yards in the first quarter and fell behind 10-0. However, they were able to bounce back and win 31-22.
But the Falcons aren't the Lions.
"We can't continue to spot a team 10 or 17 points every time and expect to come back and win -- not against a team like that," said cornerback Ken Lucas.
The Panthers were outgained 154-0 in the first quarter.
"It's disappointing," Delhomme said. "Last week we started slow and the same thing this week. ... You try to come out and start fast. We gave ourselves some manageable situations and we didn't convert. You are down 17-0 before you wake up and start playing some football."
QUOTABLE: "The past two weeks we played down to the level of our competition. Even though you win sometimes you have to go back and look at what you can do better and we do that. This was a big game and I felt like we were ready to play. I still think that team believes that they got away with one, no matter what the score says." -- Panthers MLB Jon Beason, after a 45-28 loss to Atlanta.
TRENDING: Several Carolina players were upset that they aren't getting off the field on third down. The Falcons converted six of 13 on the day.
"We are not getting out on third down, we are playing good defense on first and second down and we are not playing good defense on third down," said defensive tackle Damione Lewis. "You have to get out on third down in this league. We have a very high percentage of conversions and we haven't been doing it the last couple of weeks. We need to take care of third down."
In particular, the Falcons seemed to focus their attention on picking on No. 3 cornerback Richard Marshall, who really had his problems in coverage. After the game, Marshall was upset about giving up a 69-yard pass play to unsung rookie Harry Douglas.
"That one play just cooked us," he said. "I wish I could have it back. I have to look at film and see what mistake I made and try to change it next time."
--RB DeAngelo Williams rushed for 101 yards and one touchdown as he hit the 100-yard rushing mark for the fourth straight game to set a team record for the most career 100-yard rushing games with eight.
--QB Jake Delhomme threw for 295 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions to produce a 96.7 quarterback rating.
--WR Steve Smith caught a team-high eight passes for 168 yards for his 26th career 100-yard receiving performance and fourth this season.
--PK John Kasay scored eight points to move into 12th place all time in NFL history for points scored with 1,590.
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