Panthers squeak by Falcons, clinch first-round bye

ATLANTA -- Cam Newton threw two touchdown passes, Greg Hardy had a team- record four sacks and the Carolina Panthers clinched the NFC South title by beating the Atlanta Falcons 21-20 on Sunday.

The Panthers (12-4) clinched a first-round bye and home-field advantage for at least one game as the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Carolina could move up to the No. 1 seed with losses by Seattle and Arizona in late games.

Carolina set a team record by sacking Matt Ryan nine times. The defense also produced a touchdown on Melvin White's 7-yard interception return in the second quarter.

Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez had four catches for 56 yards and was honored at halftime in his final regular-season game. He has announced plans for retirement.

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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