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Atlanta Falcons topple Panthers 33-16, lock up NFC South title
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Atlanta Falcons' Josh Perkins (82) celebrates after his touchdown catch against the Carolina Panthers in the first half of Saturday's game in Charlotte. - photo by Mike McCarn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Matt Ryan threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns, Tevin Coleman had 135 yards from scrimmage, including a pivotal 55-yard fourth-quarter TD run, and the Atlanta Falcons moved a step closer to wrapping up a postseason berth with a 33-16 win over the Carolina Panthers on Saturday.

The Falcons (10-5) can clinch their first NFC South title since 2012 if Tampa Bay loses or ties New Orleans on Saturday. Atlanta can also clinch a playoff berth with a Detroit loss or tie against Dallas on Monday night.

A few straggling Falcons fans chanted “MVP!” at Ryan in the game’s closing minutes while most Panthers fans had already headed for the exits.

The Panthers (6-9) were officially eliminated from playoff contention after making the Super Bowl last season. Ryan torched the Panthers for the second time this season. He threw for 503 yards and four TDs in Atlanta’s win over Carolina earlier this season at the Georgia Dome, a victory that set the stage for the Falcons’ playoff push.

After piling up 300 yards receiving in the last meeting with Carolina, Julio Jones had a relatively quiet day in his return from a toe injury — four catches for 60 yards. But Ryan spread the ball around effectively, throwing touchdown passes to backup tight ends Joshua Perkins and D.J. Tialavea, who was signed from the practice squad earlier in the week.

The Panthers had battled back to cut Atlanta’s lead to 23-13 and had Ryan backed up to his own 14 on third-and-21 early in the fourth quarter. But Ryan completed a 31-yard swing pass in the left flat to Coleman, who raced past Thomas Davis for a 31-yard gain. On the next play, Coleman broke through a big hole up front and raced 55 yards for a touchdown to push Atlanta’s lead safely back to 17.

Cam Newton, last year’s league MVP, struggled with accuracy throughout the day, completing 18 of 43 passes for 198 yards with two interceptions.

His only highlight came on a 26-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin in the back of the end zone on the final play of the third quarter.

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