The Atlanta Falcons came into Week 17 with two goals in mind. First, they wanted send off one of the greatest players in NFL history in style. Second, they wanted to play spoiler to a division rival looking to clinch its first division title in five years. However, much in the same way things have gone all season long, the Falcons once again came up short in accomplishing their objectives.
The Carolina Panthers limited future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez to just four receptions for 56 yards, sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan a ridiculous nine times and overcame an early 10-point deficit in order to lay claim to the NFC South crown. Simply put, Carolina was just not going to be denied on Sunday afternoon.
Cam Newton, as he often does, took care of things on the offensive side of the ball. En route to the 21-20 final, he completed 15-of-27 pass attempts for 149 yards and a couple of touchdowns. In addition, the dual-threat signal caller rushed for 72 yards on a dozen carries. Finishing at 12-4 and headed to a first-round bye in the playoffs, the top overall selection of the 2011 draft has just finished the most successful regular season of his three-year career.
Carolina will now have two weeks in which to prepare for their divisional round foe. That is a benefit that really cannot afford to be underestimated. Featuring a weapon the caliber of Newton combined with the level of tenacity that their defense always bring to the field, the Panthers are most definitely a force to be reckoned with in the postseason.