Falcons beat Panthers 31-10, win home-field edgeBy CHARLES ODUM, AP Sports Writer Monday, Jan 3, 2011
He’s not expecting a similar treat in the playoffs.
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.
Ryan threw two touchdown passes before sitting out the final quarter—a new experience.
“Today was about it,” Ryan said when asked how many times he’s been able to sit out a quarter this season. “We’ve had some tight games for sure, but that’s how it’s going to be in the playoffs. Games are going to come down to the fourth quarter and that’s the way you like it in the playoffs.”
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.
“We’re very relevant,” Smith said after the win. “We’ve worked very hard to attain this position.”
The Falcons’ only other division titles came in 1980, 1998 and 2004. They also were the NFC’s top seed in 1980.
The Falcons have to wait a week to know who they will face on the weekend of Jan. 15-16. Roddy White(notes), 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 over 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(notes) 2-yard pass to tight end Jeff King(notes) 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.”
Ryan passed for 236 yards with touchdowns to Tony Gonzalez(notes) and White, and Eric Weems(notes) scored on a 55-yard punt return. Ryan went 22 of 32 for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Chris Redman(notes) took over on Atlanta’s first possession of the fourth quarter.
Ryan’s 33rd win matched Dan Marino’s mark for most wins by a quarterback in his first three seasons since 1970.
The Panthers managed only four first downs and 97 total yards in the first half as the Falcons led 21-0.
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.
Carolina’s offense, last in the league in points, total yards and yards passing, was without leading receiver Steve Smith (calf injury).
White reached two milestones. He 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.