CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy promised “payback” and “punishment” for the Atlanta Falcons last week, and he and his Carolina teammates delivered on Sunday.
Despite playing without four starters and having 13 players on injured reserve, the Panthers dominated the NFC South champions as Cam Newton threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns and scored on a 72-yard run in a 30-20 victory.
Newton piled up a career-high 116 yards on the ground and the Panthers racked up 475 total yards to avenge an early-season loss with a dominating performance against their Interstate-85 rivals.
Carolina’s defense was superb through 2 1/2 quarters building a 23-0 lead and holding a 356-86 edge in total yards to snap a five-game losing streak against the Falcons.
Carolina (4-9) came in with little to play for except to gain a measure of revenge on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, whom they felt disrespected them after Atlanta’s 30-28 come-from-behind win earlier this season at the Georgia Dome.
Hardy was upset when television cameras caught Ryan cursing at the Panthers sideline after that game telling them to get off their field. After Sunday’s win Hardy turned the tables on the Falcons, telling them the same thing.
Ryan threw for 342 yards and two scores, but had a costly fourth-quarter interception.
It was all Carolina in the first half, beginning with the coin toss.
The Panthers hadn’t won a coin flip all year until Sunday, causing team captain Jordan Gross to exalt at midfield by thrusting both arms into the air. Including one overtime game, the Panthers had lost 13 straight coin flips this season.
Carolina quickly took advantage, taking the opening kickoff and going 77 yards in 11 plays with Greg Olsen making a leaping grab in the back of the end zone from Newton for a 7-0 lead.
That set the tone for the first half.
By the time Graham’s Gano’s third field goal of the first half sailed through the uprights as time expired, the Panthers led 16-0 and had run 45 plays to Atlanta’s 13 and outgained the Falcons 270-35.
Led by Newton, who had some big runs on third-and-long, including a highlight-reel 14-yard scamper on third-and-11, the Panthers had 15 first downs to Atlanta’s two.
Carolina didn’t let up in the second half.
After the Panthers stuffed Atlanta on its first drive, Newton faked a handoff to DeAngelo Williams on a zone read option and raced 72 yards for a touchdown, getting an assist from receiver Steve Smith along the way. Smith took out two would-be tacklers with a big block around the 20 before Newton somersaulted into the end zone for a 23-0 lead early in the third quarter.
Atlanta came back, with Ryan converting a fourth-and-4 with a 4-yard shovel pass to Jason Snelling, setting up a short TD pass to Roddy White.
The Falcons came right back with Ryan hitting Julio Jones for an 11-yard scoring toss to cut the lead to 24-13. Atlanta’s 2-point conversion toss to White was ruled incomplete as officials said he bobbled the ball going out of bounds.
Atlanta got the ball back early in the fourth quarter and moved to midfield, but Ryan was flushed out of the pocket on fourth-and-7 and was intercepted by linebacker Thomas Davis with 6:19 remaining.
The Panthers, who’ve surrendered four fourth-quarter leads this season, put the game away on the next drive.
The Panthers capitalized on a defensive holding call by Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson on third-and-10 on their next possession as Williams caught a screen pass from Newton and raced 53 yards for a touchdown and a 30-13 lead.