ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons spoiled Cam Newton’s homecoming by taking advantage of a rookie mistake.
Michael Turner ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns, Matt Ryan scored the tie-breaking TD with 7 minutes remaining, and Corey Peters came up with a huge interception that helped the Falcons seal a 31-17 victory over Newton and the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The Carolina quarterback, who grew up just a few miles south of the Georgia Dome, wowed the crowd most of the day. He threw for 237 yards and ran for a 14-yard touchdown that put the Panthers (1-5) ahead 17-14 heading to the final quarter. He even celebrated with Deion Sanders’ high-step dance in the end zone, marking a day when the retired Hall of Famer was honored by the Falcons at halftime.
Atlanta (3-3) responded with Matt Bryant’s tying field goal and Ryan’s 1-yard sneak. Then Newton made his biggest blunder of the day trying to set up a screen pass. Peters, a 305-pound defensive tackle, caught the rookie off guard by dropping into coverage. Newton flipped a short pass toward DeAngelo Williams, but Peters reached up with one hand to pick it off at the Carolina 40.
The Falcons drove for the clinching touchdown after the turnover, with Turner barreling into the end zone from 2 yards out with 1:56 left.
Turner also scored on a 1-yard run at the end of the first quarter, carrying a season-high 27 times and breaking a streak of three straight games without reaching 100 yards. The Falcons were clearly intent on re-establishing their trademark running game against a vulnerable defense and getting more balance in their offense.
Ryan, who was averaging more than 39 passes a game, completed 14 of 22 for 163 yards in a performance that looked more like the Atlanta teams of the last three seasons, not the one that got off to a sluggish start this year and was in danger of dropping two games below .500 for the first time since 2007.
Newton finished 21 of 35 but was picked off three times. The other two were easier to take, the first coming on a deflected pass, the last on a desperation pass into the end zone on the final play of the game. The rookie also led the Panthers in rushing with 50 yards on six carries.
Ryan threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Ovie Mughelli, giving the Falcons a 14-10 lead at halftime. Jonathan Stewart scored Carolina’s first touchdown on a 1-yard run, after Olindo Mare opened the scoring for the Panthers with a 42-yard field goal.
The Panthers didn’t have to punt until late in the third quarter, but the Atlanta defense took control in the final period. Carolina’s final four possessions ended with two punts and a pair of interceptions.