Despite playing without four starters and having 13 players on injured reserve, the struggling Panthers dominated the NFC South champions. Newton piled up a career-high 116 yards on the ground and the Panthers racked up 475 yards overall, avenging a Week 4 loss to Atlanta and snapping a five-game losing streak to their Interstate 85 rivals.
It was Newton's first victory in four tries over his hometown team and he admitted after the game it was a special feeling.
"I think this game allows me to have a little chip on my shoulder," Newton said.
Carolina's defense was superb through 2½ quarters, helping build a 23-0 lead and a 356-86 edge in total yards.
Hardy left the locker room before reporters were allowed in.
Ryan downplayed the war of words.
"I don't pay too much attention to it," said Ryan, who threw for 342 yards and two scores with one interception. "They were better than us today, that's for sure. They came out and played better than us. We're in a position in our season where we've got everything right in front of us, and we need to get back to work and worry about that."
The Falcons, of course, are headed to the playoffs and Sunday was a speed bump in what has been an outstanding season.
Smith said he'll use the loss as a "teaching point" and that "we have to play our best football here in the fourth quarter" of the season.
It was all Carolina in the first half, beginning with the coin toss.
"I've never seen people cheering so loud for a coin toss," Gross said with a laugh.
Carolina quickly took advantage, taking the opening kickoff and going 77 yards in 11 plays with Greg Olsen making a leaping grab in the back of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
That set the tone for the first half.
Led by Newton, who had some big runs on third-and-long, including a highlight-reel 14-yarder in which he avoided three tacklers on third-and-11, the Panthers had 15 first downs to Atlanta's two.
"Our offense today is what I kind of thought it would be all year long," Gross said. "We passed well. We threw the ball. We ran the ball well. We blocked well."
Carolina didn't let up in the second half.
After the Panthers stuffed Atlanta on its first drive, Newton faked a handoff to DeAngelo Williams and raced 72 yards to the end zone, getting an assist from receiver Steve Smith, who took out two would-be tacklers with a big block around the 20. Newton somersaulted into the end zone for a 23-0 lead.
"I had a lot of practice blocking playing for (former Panthers) coach (John) Fox," Smith said, referring to Fox's tendency to run more than pass it while here in Carolina.
NOTES: The Panthers played without starters wide receiver Brandon LaFell, running back Jonathan Stewart, linebacker James Anderson and safety Charles Godfrey. ... Rivera ended his news conference early after starting to get emotional talking about the comeback of Thomas Davis, who has battled back from three torn ACLs to be a major contributor this season. ... Atlanta had won eight of the past nine games against Carolina before Sunday's loss.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press