Cam Newton didn't play his best game, but unlike in the past, he didn't need to.
The stingy Carolina defense took full advantage of a struggling Falcons team missing their two biggest weapons in the passing game, Julio Jones and Roddy White.
Matt Ryan was intercepted three times, the last of which cornerback Drayton Florence returned 38 yards for the decisive score.
Mike Smith's team was able to find some success on offense in the second quarter through All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez, who caught six passes for 81 yards and Atlanta's only touchdown.
However, Sean McDermott's defense made some key adjustments at the break to keep Gonzalez and the Falcons scoreless in the second half.
This strong defensive effort allowed the Panthers to overcome an average performance by Newton, who had strung together three efficient, turnover-free games prior to Sunday's NFC South clash.
The third-year quarterback finished 23 of 37 for 249 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also recorded five carries for 22 yards, including an eight-yard score early in the fourth quarter.
The run game benefitted from the return of Jonathan Stewart, who came off the PUP list to lead the team with 43 yards rushing on nine carries. DeAngelo Williams added 42 yards on 13 carries while bruising fullback Mike Tolbert scored his sixth touchdown of the year on a four-yard run in the first quarter.
Ron Rivera's team has taken advantage of a soft schedule over the last month, but the competition will become much stiffer next week and beyond.
The Panthers will take on the 6-2 San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park next Sunday before welcoming Tom Brady and the 7-2 New England Patriots to Bank of America Stadium on Monday Night Football in Week 11.
- Brandon LaFell led the Panthers in receiving with six grabs for 74 yards. Tight end Greg Olsen also had a solid day catching the football, finishing with four receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown.
- "Riverboat" Ron Rivera continued his trend of gambling on fourth and one in the second quarter. Cam Newton, on a play-action bootleg, connected with a wide open Olsen for a 15-yard touchdown to extend the Carolina lead to 14-3. The Panthers have now converted five of seven fourth downs, which, according to ESPN, is tied for most in the league.
- The Panthers lost two guards, Chris Scott and Jeff Byers, to injuries on Sunday. Nate Chandler, a converted defensive lineman, played well in emergency relief.
- Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis led Carolina's defensive effort, recording an interception each and eight and seven tackles, respectively.
- Kicker Graham Gano nailed two field goals, including a 55-yarder in the third quarter, to improve to a perfect 12 for 12 on the season.
- With the New Orleans Saints losing to the New York Jets on Sunday, the Panthers are now within one game of the NFC South lead.
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