ATLANTA – The Atlanta Falcons are heading back to the playoffs.
By beating the Panthers 22-10 at home Sunday, the Falcons clinched the sixth seed on the NFC playoffs. Atlanta (10-6) will travel to Los Angeles play the third-seeded Rams. The Bucs knocked off the Saints 31-24, but New Orleans still clinched the NFC South crown because of a better head-to-head record over Carolina.
"What a great night here in our house," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "We challenged everybody could New Year's Eve start early inside the stadium, and we felt our fans right from the beginning, so that was awesome. We felt their energy."
The date and time for the Falcons-Rams wild-card game will be played on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET. Carolina (11-5) plays New Orleans (11-5) in the other wild-card game.
Falcons pull away behind Bryant's leg
Tied at halftime, the Falcons were able to pull away from Carolina thanks to five Matt Bryant field goals in the second half. The fourth, a 56-yarder with 6:50 left in regulation, made it 19-10 and a two-score game. Bryant kicked field goals from 30, 42, 30, 56 and 33 yards out.
Defense sets the tone
Perhaps the biggest story of the night, though, was the Falcons' defense. Atlanta held Carolina to 248 yards of total offense, including 5-of-15 on third down conversions. The Falcons also picked off Panthers quarterback Cam Newton three times and sacked him twice.
Newton finished the game completing just 14 of 34 passes for 180 yards, a score and the aforementioned three interceptions.
Since allowing 31 points to the Seahawks on the road, the Falcons' defense has given up no more than 23 points over their final six games. Against the Panthers, they once again proved difficult to score against, allowing just 10 points.
"We thought going in, and we challenged the guys that tackling was really going to be on point in this game," Quinn said. "Not just from the quarterback but the running backs, receivers, and tight ends. They've got a full complement of guys, so they make you go through the whole process, Carolina does."
In the first meeting between these two NFC South foes, the Panthers gained 201 rushing yards against the Falcons, the highest total given up by this defense in 2017. On Sunday, Atlanta held Carolina to 87 yards on the ground, with the majority of those yards coming on Newton scrambles. The Panthers' running backs combined for just 30 yards in the game.
Falcons strike early
The Falcons wasted little time getting on the scoreboard in this one. Atlanta opened the game with a 10-play, 75-yard drive capped with Devonta Freeman's 19-yard catch-and-run. Freeman caught a short pass from Matt Ryan on the 15 and then dragged Panthers corner Daryl Worley the final 2 yards and into the end zone for the score.
Panthers respond with late first-half score
The Falcons kept the Panthers out of the end zone for most of the first half. The ended in the final minute of the second quarter, however. Cam Newton connected with Devin Funchess for a 4-yard touchdown with 50 seconds left to make it 7-7 at the half.
Lots of flags flying Atlanta's way again
The first seven penalties of the game were thrown in the Falcons' direction. Even worse, the Panthers were not called for a penalty until the 4:49 make of the third quarter when they were hit with a 5-yard neutral zone infraction.
By game's end, the Falcons were penalized seven times for 60 yards. The Panthers were flagged five times for 35 yards.
Jones surpasses yet another milestone
In the third quarter of the Falcons' regular-season finale against the Panthers, Julio Jones caught a 14-yard pass, which brought his career receiving total to 9,013 yards. With that reception, Jones became the fastest player in NFL history to gain 9,000 receiving yards, accomplishing that feat in his 95th game.
What the win means for the Falcons
With the win, the Falcons clinch the sixth and final spot in the NFC playoffs. They'll head to Los Angeles and face the third-seeded Rams now in the wild-card round.
"Well, coming into this season, we had talked quite a bit about how difficult the NFC South would be," Quinn said. "I didn't think anybody would go all the way through and not have a chance to go undefeated through it, and it certainly played out that way.
"I've heard just that we're going to play out at Los Angeles, and that's the fight that we're in, that's the fight that matters, and we'll be completely, 100 percent ready to ball."
Recap Sunday's game with the in-game blog
We provided live updates and analysis during Sunday's game against the Panthers as well as highlights, stats and additional insights. You can recap all the action below.