By The Sports Xchange

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Matt Ryan threw two touchdown passes and Matt Bryant kicked four field goals as the Atlanta Falcons inched closer to claiming the NFC South title with a 33-16 victory against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium.

The Falcons did so by dismantling the three-time reigning divisional champions on their home field.

A Tampa Bay loss or tie later in the day at New Orleans would give the Falcons (10-5) the crown, or otherwise they meet the Buccaneers next weekend at home.

Ryan’s first scoring pass set a franchise single-season record at 33 touchdown strikes and sent the Falcons on their way to their third consecutive victory and fourth win in the last five games.

Ryan completed 27 of 33 passes for 277 yards without an interception.

A two-game winning streak ended for Carolina (6-9). Quarterback Cam Newton was 18-for-43 for 198 and one touchdown pass. He threw two first-half interceptions.

After being the only team to defeat the Panthers in the 2015 regular season, the Falcons swept the season series this time.

Carolina was 10-0 last season at home, including two playoff victories but went only 4-4 in Charlotte this season.

This season’s NFL receiving leader Julio Jones returned for the Falcons after missing the past two games with a toe injury. He made a 5-yard catch on the game’s first snap and finished with four receptions for 60 yards.

The Panthers scored on the final play of the third quarter on Newton’s 26-yard touchdown connection with Kelvin Benjamin, closing the gap to 23-13. That marked only Newton’s 11th completion in 29 attempts.

Then it appeared Atlanta was wobbling, but a third-and-21 pickup (for 31 yards) moved the Falcons out of danger. Running back Tevin Coleman rushed 55 yards on the next play for a touchdown.

So it was a four-play, 75-yard response as the Falcons, who are the league’s highest-scoring team, reached the 30-point mark for the 10th time this season.

Atlanta began its production from the get-go.

Ryan connected on a 26-yard touchdown pass to tight end Joshua Perkins to cap the game’s first drive. Perkins made the catch at the goal line between a pair of Carolina defenders.

Following Brian Poole’s interception of Newton, the Falcons made it 10-0 less than nine minutes into the game on Matt Bryant’s 51-yard field goal.

Atlanta’s next possession resulted in Bryant’s 48-yarder for a 13-0 edge with 35 seconds to play in the first quarter.

Ryan scrambled and threw 1 yard to tight end D.J. Tialavea, who was signed to the active roster for his first NFL game, as the Falcons claimed a 20-3 advantage.

Bryant missed a 30-yard attempt with 13 seconds to play in the first half when his kick was deflected by Panthers defensive tackle Vernon Butler.

Bryant’s last field goal was a 50-yarder with 1:55 left.

NOTES: The Falcons have won three consecutive meetings with Carolina, leading the all-time series 27-17. … Carolina TE Greg Olsen’s first catch went for 17 yards in the second quarter, making him the first NFL tight end to produce three consecutive seasons of 1,000 or more receiving yards. He played despite missing practices during the week with an elbow injury. … Panthers LB Luke Kuechly, who was a Pro Bowl selection earlier in the week, missed his fifth game in a row. He suffered a concussion Nov. 17 and, despite cleared to play the past two games, remains out of uniform. … The Falcons wrap up the regular season next week at home against New Orleans. … Carolina finishes the season next week at Tampa Bay.


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