Panthers 24, Falcons 6

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—Michael Vick looked left, right and straight ahead, frantically searching for some running room.

For the first time in his career, the Carolina Panthers closed all Vick’s available lanes and forced him to try to beat them with his arm.

He couldn’t.

Despite his long history of running wild against the Panthers, Vick was bottled up all day Sunday and failed to create much offense for Atlanta. The Falcons managed a pair of field goals in their 24-6 loss to Carolina on Sunday.

“Mike had a lot of success against these guys and I know they had that in the back of their head,” said Carolina linebacker Chris Draft, who spent five seasons in Atlanta. “So this is like finally getting the monkey off their back.”

It was Vick’s first loss to Carolina (9-3) in six starts. Atlanta (7-5) had won three straight and 12 of 14 against the Panthers.

“The streak was not going to last long, I knew that,” said Vick, now 5-1 against Carolina. “I was just trying to keep it going as long as I could. Everybody hyped it up that they hadn’t beat us in the last three years and they fed off that.”

DeShaun Foster scored two touchdowns and became the first Carolina back to go over 100 yards this season while helping the Panthers build a two-game NFC South lead over the Falcons. They’ve got a one-game advantage over Tampa Bay— setting up another huge division showdown next week against the Bucs.

The Falcons certainly will be questioning their strategy in this one. Carolina was repeatedly embarrassed by Vick on the ground in his five previous starts, when he ran 40 times for 356 yards—a whopping 8.9 yards per carry.

His success had the Panthers on edge all week, forced to issue repeated denials that Vick wasn’t in their heads. But Atlanta coach Jim Mora wants Vick to improve his passing so the Falcons aren’t forced to rely on his legs so much. Mora stubbornly stuck with that game plan, holding Vick to a baffling three carries for 36 yards.

Mora insisted that Carolina dictated Vick’s ground game.

“I think people make it about schemes when it’s really about athletes,” Mora said. “I thought their team speed on defense showed up. They just played good solid team defense. I don’t think it was anything schematic.”

Vick finished 17-of-35 for 171 yards. He was sacked five times and intercepted twice, including Ricky Manning Jr.’s pick with 3:57 to play, which ended any hopes of an Atlanta rally. It set up Foster’s second score of the game, a 6-yard run.

“I think Vick tends to get antsy in the pocket,” said defensive end Mike Rucker, who had one sack. “If you can force him to stay in the pocket, you can force him to make some bad throws.”

The Panthers weren’t overly efficient, doing just enough to finally pull one out against their nemesis. Tensions were high between the rivals, with several on-field scuffles breaking out at the end of plays.

After Carolina fullback Brad Hoover and DeAngelo Hall took turns throwing the ball at each other—Hoover was called for a personal foul—the teams had to be separated following several seconds of shoving that drew Mora to midfield to pull away his players.

Jake Delhomme threw a pair of 18-yard touchdown passes, one to Foster, who rambled 18 yards for the score, and the second to Steve Smith, who stiff-armed his way past two defenders to dive into the end zone. He celebrated by pretending the football was a baby that needed its diaper changed.

Smith finished with seven catches for 65 yards.

Foster, meanwhile, continued his move toward becoming Carolina’s featured back. Although Stephen Davis got the start, he had five carries for 8 yards and gave way to Foster midway through the first quarter.

Foster finished with 131 yards on 24 carries, and another 49 yards on three catches. Davis proved there’s no animosity between the two by sprinting from the sideline to the far corner of the field to celebrate Foster’s first score with him.

Notes

Todd Peterson’s failed 49-yard field goal attempt was his first miss of the season. … Atlanta kick returner Allen Rossum injured his posterior cruciate ligament and is expected to miss up to two weeks. … Draft started in place of Dan Morgan, who missed his second game with an ankle injury. Draft finished with eight tackles and a sack. … Warrick Dunn had 80 yards on 16 carries, giving him a career-high 1,174 on the season.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Atlanta
W. Dunn W. Dunn RB
16 Rush, 80 yds
 Carolina
D. Foster D. Foster RB
24 Rush, 131 yds
1 TD
3 Rec, 49 yds, 1 TD

Team Stat Leaders

Passing Yards
Rushing Yards
Receiving Yards

Scoreboard

Week 13
  Sunday, Dec 4  
  Atlanta
Carolina 6
24 Final
     
  Buffalo
Miami 23
24 Final
     
  Cincinnati
Pittsburgh 38
31 Final
     
  Dallas
NY Giants 10
17 Final
     
  Green Bay
Chicago 7
19 Final
     
  Houston
Baltimore 15
16 Final
     
  Jacksonville
Cleveland 20
14 Final
     
  Minnesota
Detroit 21
16 Final
     
  Tampa Bay
New Orleans 10
3 Final
     
  Tennessee
Indianapolis 3
35 Final
     
  Arizona
San Francisco 17
10 Final
     
  Washington
St. Louis 24
9 Final
     
  Denver
Kansas City 27
31 Final
     
  NY Jets
New England 3
16 Final
     
  Oakland
San Diego 10
34 Final
      Monday, Dec 5  
  Seattle
Philadelphia 42
0 Final