Falcons Allow Nine Sacks in 21-20 Loss to Panthers

Tony Gonzalez caught four passes for 56 yards in the last game of his career. (Daniel Shirey)

Tony Gonzalez caught four passes for 56 yards in the last game of his career. (Daniel Shirey)

The Atlanta Falcons came up short in their attempt to send Tony Gonzalez off with a win as they fell 21-20 to the Carolina Panthers.

Allowing Matt Ryan to be sacked nine times – four times by defensive end Greg Hardy, who posted a Panthers team single-game record – isn’t exactly a recipe for earning a victory.

The nine sacks Carolina collected set a team record.

With the win, the Panthers (12-4) clinched the NFC South division crown for the first time since 2008. Carolina also earned a first-round bye as the second seed in the playoffs.

It’s the first time the Panthers have boasted a winning record under quarterback Cam Newton, and the first time the team will make a trip to the playoffs since 2008.

For the Falcons (4-12), the nightmare season is over. The ending to Sunday’s game was Atlanta’s season in a nutshell.

On their own 43-yard line and down 21-20 with :31 left, center Joe Hawley snapped the ball while Ryan was making adjustments at the line.

Jason Snelling recovered the ball back at the 26-yard line. On the next play, the Falcons committed an illegal shift penalty which, inside the final minute, results in a :10 runoff.

The Falcons started the game with fire: The offense took the game’s opening drive 80 yards for a touchdown in 11 plays.

Atlanta stormed out to a 10-0 lead before Carolina took over the rest of the half and took a 14-10 lead heading into halftime.

Ryan finished with 280 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception on 28 of 40 passing.

Roddy White was the leading receiver for Atlanta with eight catches for 91 yards and a 39-yard touchdown.

In the last game of his career, Gonzalez caught four passes for 56 yards.

Newton had 149 yards through the air with two touchdowns and an interception on 15 of 27 passing. He also added 72 yards on the ground.

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