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Panthers use opportunistic defense to crush Falcons, win NFC South Associated Press ATLANTA -- The Carolina Panthers have back-to-back playoff seasons for the first time in franchise history. Back-to-back losing seasons could lead to a coaching change for the Atlanta Falcons. Roman Harper and Tre Boston returned interceptions for touchdowns as Carolina's defense led the Panthers to a 34-3 victory over the Falcons on Sunday to win the NFC South. Carolina (7-8-1) will host a wild-card playoff game next week. The Panthers have won four straight, but still are the first team to enter the playoffs with a losing record since 2010, when Seattle was 7-9. Harper scored on a 31-yard return in the second quarter and Boston clinched the win with his 84-yard interception return late in the third quarter. A 33-yard fumble return by Thomas Davisset up another touchdown. For the Panthers, the celebration began when they called their final timeout with 2:41 remaining. Quarterback Cam Newton lifted his arms toward Carolina fans who moved close to the field to claim seats vacated by Falcons fans. After the game, Newton answered fans who called his name by running back to the edge of the stands to give fans high-fives. Newton completed 10 of 16 passes for 114 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Ed Dickson in the first quarter. Newton also had a 4-yard scoring run. The Panthers did not have a turnover. The Falcons (6-10) were booed as they finished their second straight losing season under embattled coach Mike Smith. Atlanta is 10-22 since falling to San Francisco in the 2012 NFC championship game. Carolina dominated the first quarter, running for 105 yards and holding the ball almost 12 minutes. But the Panthers led only 10-3 before the defense stretched the lead. Harper intercepted Matt Ryan's pass intended for Roddy White and ran down the Panthers' sideline for the touchdown. On Atlanta's next possession, White fumbled following a catch when hit by linebacker Adarius Glanton. Davis picked up the loose ball and returned the ball to the Atlanta 9. Newton's touchdown run pushed the lead to 24-3. Boston's 84-yard return on his interception of Ryan's fourth-down pass for Harry Douglas late in the third quarter pushed the Panthers' lead to 34-3. With star receiver Julio Jones contained by cornerback Josh Norman, Ryan couldn't move the Falcons offense. Ryan completed 29 of 47 passes for 260 yards with two interceptions. Jones had only four catches for 58 yards. Falcons starting running back Steven Jackson was inactive with a quadriceps injury, and fill-insJacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman were shut down. Norman also was primarily responsible for holding Jones to six catches for 59 yards in Atlanta's 19-17 win at Carolina on Nov. 16. The Panthers improved to 15-3 in December games since coach Ron Rivera was hired in 2011. It was a familiar setting for Newton and the Panthers, who also clinched their 2013 playoff berth with a Week 17 win at Atlanta. The Panthers had nine sacks in that 21-20 win, and they were similarly effective with six sacks on Sunday. *I wonder how Mr Blank is taking this right now?*
http://onlineathens.com/sports/2013-11-29/injuries-falcons-struggles-frustrate-roddy-white SPORTS Injuries, Falcons' struggles frustrate Roddy White By MATT WINKLEJOHNTHE ASSOCIATED PRESS – published Friday, November 29, 2013 Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on email FLOWERY BRANCH — Atlanta’s Roddy White has had success like only a handful of wide receivers in NFL history. So missing three games this season and entering December with just 20 receptions has left the four-time Pro Bowler, “yelling and screaming at myself, trying to get my body to act right.” Last season White became just the fifth NFL receiver to have three consecutive seasons of more than 90 receptions and 1,200 yards, and the sixth to register at least 80 receptions and 1,000 yards six straight times. Heading into December with just 209 yards and one TD hurts White almost as much as the high ankle sprain that’s plagued him since the preseason. Compounding White’s misery has been the Falcons (2-10) disappointing season, which he says is “probably the toughest” of his career. “Coming into this season, we had really high expectations and I had very high expectations for myself,” said the nine-year veteran, who had 92 catches for 1,351 yards last year. “It’s been frustrating because I’m not able to do what I set out to do, to be the kind of player that I want to be because I’ve been hobbled by the ankle, and then I hurt my hamstring. “It’s been injury after injury, and I can’t get my body to react. It’s been a tough season overall for us because we’ve all been hurt. Injuries happen, but you don’t expect them to have this much of an effect to where we’re 2-9.” White played in the first 113 consecutive games of his career before going inactive this fall for three straight games. That came after catching just 14 passes for 129 yards and no scores in the first five. At times, White was little more than a decoy early in the season as he could not shake the effects of his balky ankle. Then, he tweaked a hamstring to make matters worse and force his de-activation. With six receptions for 80 yards and a score in the past three games, the former first-round pick is still not himself and said that he likely won’t be quite right when the Falcons play the Buffalo Bills Sunday in Toronto. “I don’t think so. I go out there and give it my all, but (team officials) know I won’t be completely healthy until the offseason when I can get off of it,” he said. “The ankle has just been nagging me and nagging me. It won’t turn around. The doctors say it will probably bother (me) until the offseason.” White hasn’t been the only injured Falcon, not by a long shot. Atlanta has suffered a rather remarkable rash of injuries, several of them season-ending. Defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann went down for good in the first game, running back Steven Jackson missed four games, tackle Sam Baker is long gone for the season, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon missed seven games. Plus, the other half of the Falcons’ top-shelf wide receiver crew, Julio Jones, went down with a season-ending foot injury in the season’s fifth game. That made White worse psychologically. Jones went on injured reserve and he went inactive at the same time. The two combined for 171 receptions, 2,549 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, and suddenly neither was available to quarterback Matt Ryan. As the Falcons continued to struggle, so did White as he longed to help his teammates. “Absolutely. That’s been the worst part about it,” he said. “It’s been tough, man, one of the toughest seasons that I’ve been through, probably the toughest, because we’ve got so many good players on this team and we’ve lost a couple of them for the season. We lost a lot of the core guys, important guys, that help us roll and it takes a toll on the guys.” About then, White started hollering at his body. “Having been in this league and having success for eight straight years not missing games ... it’s been tough just going out there and watching those guys,” he said. “I do a lot of yelling and screaming at myself, trying to get my body to act right and do a certain thing. “I’ve been through a long season one time when we won four games (in 2007), but this is a little bit different because I wasn’t hurt then; I was performing. This has been difficult because I haven’t been able to go out there and help our team win.” Notes: The Falcons’ injury report lists as questionable Tony Gonzalez (toe), linebackers Akeem Dent (ankle) and Sean Weatherspoon (knee, shoulder), defensive end Malliciah Goodman (calf) and safety Zeke Motta (finger).