ATLANTA - For the first time this season, there was no big comeback for Carolina. No clutch play at a key moment. No costly mistake by its opponent in the last few minutes.
It was Carolina's first regular-season loss since Nov. 30, 2014, at Minnesota. The Panthers did not get into the end zone after their opening drive.
"That's unacceptable, particularly at this time of the year," Newton said.
Newton said coach Ron Rivera said the team played as if it was waiting for a turnaround that never came.
Carolina's 13 points set a season low. The Panthers had scored at least 24 points in 13 straight games.
"We're 14-1 now," Newton said. "We put ourselves in a situation that we can use this as fuel to the fire."
"I viewed this game as a measuring stick for us," Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. "I wanted to see how our team would respond after the game up there."
Carolina needed a win, or a loss or tie by Arizona against Green Bay, to clinch home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs.
Jones got the best of his much-anticipated matchup with Carolina cornerback Josh Norman. Jones had nine catches for 178 yards, including the dramatic touchdown catch.
"Julio made a great play on it," Kuechly said. "That's really all there is. I thought I was in a good spot, but he went up and got it."
Carolina trailed 14-10 in the fourth quarter when Ryan mishandled a shotgun snap from the Panthers 37. Norman recovered the fumble, setting up Gano's 47-yard field goal that cut Atlanta's lead to 14-13.
The Falcons were stopped on a third-down incomplete pass before Tillman became entangled with Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White. Tillman drew the flag to keep Atlanta's offense on the field for a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that lasted more than 9 minutes. Freeman scored from the 4 on the first play of the second quarter for a 7-7 tie.
Rivera said he would talk with the league office about the penalty but said "There's nothing we can do about it. We didn't get off the field. We're not making any excuses."
Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press