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Falcons hold off Panthers, move into first-place tie

The Atlanta Falcons aren't dead -- far from it. Mike Smith's team moved into a first-place tie in the lumpy NFC South with a 19-17 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Our takeaways:

  1. Give the Falcons credit: They could have folded after Cam Newton led the Panthers on a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives, turning a 16-3 Atlanta lead into a 17-16 deficit. But Matt Ryan led the Falcons back down the field, got the go-ahead field goal from Matt Bryant -- and then held on defense with the help of Graham Gano, who missed a 46-yard kick and subsequently had a 63-yard attempt blocked as time expired.
  1. Cam Newton's down season continues. The Panthers quarterback threw two more interceptions and has now tied a franchise record with picks in seven straight games. He does deserve credit for bringing the Panthers back to life with back-to-back touchdown drives late. His go-ahead 47-yard scoring pass to Philly Brown was a reminder of how good he can be.
  1. Steven Jackson is reaching the end of the line. The former Rams star was held to 41 yards on 17 carries, with no run going more than five yards. His old burst is gone.
  1. Newton sometimes trusts Greg Olsentoo much. The quarterback repeatedly targeted his tight end in big spots, even when Olsen was well covered. It resulted in punts and boos from the home crowd.
  1. Luke Kuechly won't repeat as Defensive Player of the Year, but he was extremely active in this one, finishing with 11 tackles, two pass breakups and one quarterback hit.

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