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Published: Monday, 1/3/2011

Falcons upend Panthers

ATLANTA -- Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons put a decisive stamp on the NFC South title and home-field advantage in the playoffs by beating Carolina 31-10 Sunday in John Fox's last game as Panthers coach.

The Falcons (13-3) earned their first division title since 2004, home-field edge throughout the NFC playoffs and a bye next weekend.

Carolina (2-14) had a weak finish to an awful season under Fox.

Ryan passed for 236 yards with touchdowns to Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White, and Eric Weems scored on a 55-yard punt return.

At Baltimore, Ed Reed had two interceptions and Ray Lewis recovered two fumbles, part of an opportunistic defense that carried Baltimore over Cincinnati. Despite the victory, the Ravens (12-4) failed to get the help necessary to win the AFC North. Baltimore needed Pittsburgh to lose to Cleveland, but the Steelers won easily to deny the Ravens a first-round bye.

Ray Rice scored on a 7-yard run and Billy Cundiff kicked two field goals for the Ravens, who forced five turnovers to offset the 395 yards in offense amassed by the Bengals (4-12). The Ravens' victory was not assured until Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer threw an incompletion on a fourth-down play from the Baltimore 2 with 10 seconds left.

At Kansas City, Michael Bush rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown and short-handed Oakland beat playoff-bound Kansas City to gain a unique NFL distinction. The Raiders (8-8) finished 6-0 in the AFC West, the first team since the 1970 merger to go unbeaten in the division and not make the playoffs. The Chiefs (10-6) were 2-4 in the division, but will host a playoff game next weekend as AFC West champions.

At New Orleans, Josh Freeman passed for two touchdowns, and Tampa Bay kept its playoff hopes alive. Freeman passed for 255 yards, including a 2-yard scoring strike to Dezmon Briscoe in the back of the end zone, and an 18-yard TD to Mike Williams on fourth-and-short.

Connor Barth hit three field goals, the third from 48 yards to give the Bucs a two-score lead with 4:01 to go.

Reggie Bush had 70 yards rushing and 55 yards receiving for the Saints (11-5).

At Foxborough, Mass., Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes to cap a record-setting season as New England won its eighth straight. Brady played into the third quarter and finished with 36 touchdowns passing and four interceptions.

The Patriots (14-2) already had home field advantage for as long as they remain in the AFC playoffs and have a first-round bye. The Dolphins (7-9) lost for the fourth time in five games.

At East Rutherford, N.J., Mark Brunell threw two touchdown passes in relief of Mark Sanchez, Joe McKnight ran for a career-high 158 yards, and New York's defense dominated Buffalo.

The Jets enter the playoffs as a No. 6 seed. Sanchez, dealing with a sore right shoulder, started but played only one series.

At Indianapolis, Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes, and Adam Vinatieri made a 43-yard field goal as time expired, giving Indianapolis a victory over Tennessee and its seventh AFC South title in eight years.

Manning was 27-of-41 for 264 yards and threw his 398th and 399th career TD passes. It was Manning's masterful five-play, 37-yard drive that gave Indy its fourth straight win.

At Houston, Arian Foster ran for 180 yards to capture the NFL rushing title for Houston.

The Jaguars (8-8) needed a win and a Colts loss to make playoffs, but couldn't overcome the absence of its top two offensive players. Quarterback David Garrard had finger surgery Thursday and Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew sat out with a right knee injury.

At Green Bay, Wis., Aaron Rodgers' 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Donald Lee to give Green Bay the lead, and its defense held on to clinch a wild card berth with a win over Chicago. The Packers will visit the NFC East champion Eagles next Sunday.

Nothing came easy for the Packers (10-6), They trailed 3-0 at halftime and were tied going into the fourth quarter with the Bears -- a team that didn't have anything to play for in terms of playoff seeding, but still played to win with its starters.

At Philadelphia, Stephen McGee threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten with 55 seconds left to lead Dallas over NFC East champion Philadelphia. Michael Vick and nearly every starter didn't play in a game that had no effect on Philadelphia's playoff positioning. The Cowboys (6-10) were playing for jobs next year, and the win may convince owner Jerry Jones to have interim coach Jason Garrett stay on next season.

At Landover, Md., the Giants got the win, but they didn't get the help they needed to make the playoffs. Osi Umenyiora force two of the defense's four turnovers, and the Giants ended with a 10-6 and no playoff spot after the Packers defeated the Bears to clinch the final NFC postseason spot.

At San Francisco, Alex Smith threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis in what likely was the quarterback's final hurrah with San Francisco in a matchup for last place in the awful NFC West.

Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick who becomes a free agent, threw for 276 yards and two TDs overall and the Niners (6-10) made interim coach Jim Tomsula a winner in what will probably be his only game coaching the team.

Larry Fitzgerald had a 10-yard TD reception from John Skelton among his 11 catches for Arizona (5-11). Brian Westbrook had a pair of 6-yard TD runs in the third quarter for San Francisco.

At Denver, rookie Ryan Mathews ran for three scores and Nate Kaeding kicked four field goals for San Diego in downing Denver.

The Broncos (4-12) closed out the season with more than 11 losses for the first time in club history, but secured the No. 2 overall pick in the April draft behind Carolina. San Diego (9-7) missed the playoffs after winning the AFC West title the past four years. Mathews topped 100 yards for the first time, gaining 120 yards on 26 carries and scoring on runs of 27, 12 and 31 yards.



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