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(Sunday, December 11th)
Final Score: Atlanta 31, Carolina 23
Charlotte, NC (Sports Network) - Julio Jones caught a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Matt Ryan, including a 75-yard catch-and-run to finish off the Atlanta Falcons' 31-23 comeback victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Atlanta (8-5) scored 24 unanswered points after trailing by 16 at halftime to sweep its NFC South rival for the second straight season, while also staying in good position to capture a wild card spot.
After the game, Falcons head coach Mike Smith was taken to a local hospital for what the team said was "a non-emergency matter."
In a statement released late Sunday, the team said Smith was "resting comfortably" after having tests that "reaffirmed his health." The Falcons said Smith was expected to be in Atlanta on Monday.
Ryan shook off a slow start and threw for 320 yards and four touchdowns on 22- of-38 attempts. Jones only caught three passes, but logged 104 yards, while Roddy White had seven catches for 84 yards and a score for the Falcons, who rebounded from last week's loss at Houston.
Cam Newton came unraveled after a sparkling first half and finished with 276 yards with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions on 19-of-39 throws for Carolina (4-9), which was trying for its first three-game winning streak since 2009.
"Sometimes he played outside of himself and tried to make things happen," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said of Newton. "It's one he'll learn from and get corrected."
The Falcons trailed 23-7 at the break, but forced a quick punt on Carolina's first possession of the second half.
Their hurry-up offense resulted in Matt Bryant's 30-yard field goal 4:05 into the third quarter, and a turnover shortly thereafter swung the momentum.
Newton, trying to avoid a sack, threw a shovel pass into the flat that was easily intercepted by Mike Peterson and returned to the Carolina 35-yard line.
Jacquizz Rodgers then ran for four yards, and on the next play sprung from the backfield and up the left sideline, where he hauled in Ryan's perfectly-thrown bomb for a 31-yard touchdown with 8:55 remaining in the third.
Bryant pulled a 46-yard attempt wide left after another Newton interception, but Atlanta embarked on a 10-play, 90-yard drive spanning the third and fourth quarters to take the lead for good.
On 2nd-and-10 from the Carolina 17, Jones caught a pass at the one, fought off his defender and reached across the goal line to put the Falcons up 24-23 with 12:42 showing.
Newton led the Panthers into scoring position with five minutes left and escaped a sack on third down from the 18 to keep the Panthers in field goal range.
But Olindo Mare missed his 36-yard attempt wide left, and Jones essentially sealed the win two plays later when he took a deep slant pass, broke an arm tackle at midfield and went untouched the rest of the way for the back- breaking TD with 4:17 on the clock.
The Panthers reached enemy territory again and turned it over on downs at the Atlanta 27 when Newton threw his fourth straight incompletion.
"I'm proud of the way everyone responded at halftime," Ryan said. "It was a good, resilient team effort."
White caught four passes for 33 yards on Atlanta's first scoring drive, including a five-yard fade in the left corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 5:29 left in the opening quarter.
Carolina controlled the rest of the half, starting with a nine-play, 74-yard drive capped by Jeremy Shockey's six-yard touchdown reception.
Matt Bosher pinned the Falcons down at their own four early in the second quarter, and on third down, Antwan Applewhite broke through the line of scrimmage and sacked Ryan in the end zone for a safety.
After the free kick, DeAngelo Williams took a stretch handoff to the right side and sprinted 74 yards to paydirt -- the third longest TD of his career.
Atlanta proceeded with another three-and-out, and Greg Olsen took a well- designed screen pass 44 yards up the right sideline for a 23-7 cushion heading to the break.
Atlanta's Michael Turner ran for 76 yards on 21 carries and has amassed over 1,000 rushing yards for the third time in four seasons...Tony Gonzalez had seven catches for 82 yards for the Falcons...Minus his touchdown run, Williams gained 13 yards on six carries...Steve Smith caught six passes for 125 yards for the Panthers, who had not been swept by the Falcons in consecutive years since a six-game skid from 2000-02.
12/11 23:13:05 ET