Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 32° Cloudy
Sports

Carolina captures NFC South at 7-8-1

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, left, can’t make catch as Panthers cornerback Josh Norman defends. (Associated Press)
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, left, can’t make catch as Panthers cornerback Josh Norman defends. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

ATLANTA – The Carolina Panthers’ big-play defense appears capable of making a difference in the playoffs – even for a team with a losing record.

Roman Harper and Tre Boston returned interceptions for touchdowns and Carolina recorded six sacks, leading the Panthers to a 34-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday to win the woeful NFC South.

Carolina (7-8-1) will host Arizona in a wild-card playoff game next week. The losing record didn’t keep the Panthers from celebrating their first back-to-back playoff seasons in franchise history.

“It feels great,” Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart said. “I mean, it’s a blessing and you just have to cherish these moments right now. … We just believed and played our hearts out and this is where we are.”

The Panthers have won four straight, but still they are the first team to enter the playoffs with a losing record since 2010, when Seattle was 7-9.

“The beautiful thing – record doesn’t matter,” coach Ron Rivera said. “That’s the best part.”

Harper scored on a 31-yard return in the second quarter and Boston clinched the win with his 84-yard interception return late in the third quarter. A 33-yard fumble return by Thomas Davis set up another touchdown.

“It was a great defensive effort,” Rivera said.

Newton completed 10 of 16 passes for 114 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Ed Dickson in the first quarter. Newton also had a 4-yard scoring run. Stewart ran for 49 yards on 13 carries.

The Panthers did not have a turnover.

The Falcons (6-10) were booed as they finished their second straight losing season under embattled coach Mike Smith.

Atlanta is 10-22 since falling to San Francisco in the 2012 NFC championship game.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the sports newsletter

Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.