Mike Peterson and a couple teammates got the Falcons to a fast start, stripping Panthers back Jonathan Stewart to set up a quick touchdown three plays later. “It was huge for us,” coach Mike Smith said. “We said we wanted to start fast and finish fast. I thought we got the first part of it right.”
Michael Turner then reached the end zone three more times on the way to a 112-yard rushing day as the Falcons cruised to stay in first in the NFC South, also getting them closer to home field in the NFC.
Matt Ryan completed 20-of-34 passes for 227 yards with one touchdown in the win, Atlanta’s seventh straight since losing at Philadelphia on October 17.
Atlanta can secure the conference’s first playoff spot if Dallas beats the Eagles later Sunday or the Giants lose to Minnesota on Monday.
“I felt we played pretty well in the first half,” Smith said. “We were able to create some scores of turnovers and shorten the field for the offense, which was big.”
The Panthers got 133 yards from Stewart on 18 carries, and Mike Goodson added 70 yards. Carolina rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen connected on 14-of-24 tosses for 107 yards. The Panthers are now 1-12, their only win was earlier this year against the 49ers.
Atlanta went up 14-0 after Harry Douglas hauled in a 46-yard pass along the left sideline to set up Turner’s one-yard touchdown run to extended the Falcon lead with 6:51 remaining in the first quarter.
Trailing 17-0 after Matt Bryant made a 39-yard field goal in the second frame, Carolina, which totaled only 33 yards and two first downs through the first half, reached the end zone on its opening possession of the third quarter. Goodson capped the five-play, 81-yard drive with a 13-yard dash.
Atlanta’s lead grew to 24-7 when Turner punched it in from three yards out with less than five minutes to play in the third.
John Kasay kicked a 36-yard field goal for Carolina early in the fourth quarter before Turner finished the scoring with a four-yard run.
The Falcons will be in Seattle next Sunday.