CHARLOTTE, N.C.. The Atlanta Falcons still aren’t very flashy. They certainly didn’t wow anybody playing the NFL’s worst team Sunday.
All they do, seemingly, is win.
Michael Turner ran for 112 yards and three touchdowns, Matt Ryan threw for another and the Atlanta Falcons maintained their grasp on the best record in the NFC with a 31-10 victory over the .
The Falcons (11-2) built a 17-0 halftime lead, survived a brief hiccup to start the third quarter, and cruised to their seventh straight win. and Kroy Biermann each had two sacks, Mike Peterson picked off Jimmy Clausen and the Falcons became the latest team to shut down the league’s worst offense.
Jonathan Stewart rushed for a season-best 133 yards, but lost a fumble on Carolina’s first play from scrimmage to set up Atlanta’s first TD. Things didn’t get much better for the Panthers (1-12), who dropped their seventh straight stayed on track to get the top pick in the draft.
Atlanta inched closer to a playoff berth with the victory. With losing to Detroit, Atlanta would get in with a loss by the Eagles on Sunday night or the Giants on Monday thanks to Turner’s continued resurgence.
Turner, who sprained his ankle here last year to derail his season as Atlanta missed the playoffs, had TD runs of 1, 3 and 4 yards in his fifth straight 100-yard game against Carolina. He carried 28 times, getting increased work with backup Jason Snelling (hamstring) sidelined.
Ryan wasn’t particularly sharp, but completed 20 of 34 passes for 227 yards and an interception. Roddy White caught eight passes for 79 yards and Atlanta overcome an odd atmosphere amid Carolina’s horrible season.
With bundled-up owner Jerry Richardson watching stone-faced from his open-air box in the end zone, he saw thousands of empty blue seats and a team in disarray after his offseason cost-cutting.
The few fans that were on hand — the stadium was somewhere between a third and half full at the start — at least were making light of the situation. The loudest cheer early was when referee Clete Blakeman announced, “That is the end of the first quarter.”
At that point, the Panthers were being outgained 133-6. They didn’t get a first down — which also produced jeers — until early in the second quarter.
By the time the next mock fist pumps and yells for Carolina’ second first down, Abraham and Biermann each had two sacks and it was 17-0 nearing halftime.
Three plays after Stewart’s opening fumble, Ryan tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez. Ryan’s 46-yard pass to Harry Douglas, who burned rookie Robert McClain, set up Turner 1-yard TD run on the second series.
Against the NFL’s lowest-scoring team, that was more than enough despite Carolina’s brief spurt.
After gaining 33 yards in the first half, the Panthers got a 48-yard burst by Stewart and Mike Goodson’s 13-yard TD run on an 81-yard drive to start the third quarter to get within 17-7.
Stewart rumbled for 42 yards for the next possession, but a frazzled Clausen was sacked by Chauncey Davis on fourth down near midfield to end the drive.
The Falcons quickly pounced, with Ryan completing three passes to White before Turner’s twisting 3-yard TD run made it 24-7.
It left Carolina closer to finishing with the league’s worst record, getting the No. 1 draft pick and perhaps a chance to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Clausen was 14 of 24 for 107 yards, extending his streak to 193 passes since his lone TD of the season. Peterson picked him off midway through the fourth quarter off a deflected pass to set up Turner’s final TD. Clausen was also sacked five times.