Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) runs the ball against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of their NFL football game in Charlotte, North Carolina December 9, 2012. (Reuters)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With Carolina quarterback Cam Newton slicing through his hometown team, the Panthers made sure they were far enough ahead of the Atlanta Falcons this time.
Still steaming from a blown lead more than two months ago, the Panthers picked apart one of the NFL's best teams, holding off the Falcons 30-20 on Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium.
It was particularly rewarding for Newton.
"I get hounded so much when I get in Atlanta," Newton said. "I think this game allows me to have a little chip on my shoulder when I go back."
Newton was the game's leading rusher, picking up 116 yards on the ground to go with 287 passing yards.
The last of Newton's 23 completions went for 53 yards to running back DeAngelo Williams, who did most of the work on the game-clinching touchdown with 4:11 left.
Newton's 72-yard touchdown run -- with a somersault into the end zone -- gave the Panthers touchdowns on their first possessions of each half. They led 23-0 at the time, so Newton was able to laugh later about the flip that might have looked a little awkward.
There were frowns coming from the Falcons.
"The way we played, you won't beat anybody in this league," Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "We started flat. That's something that we've got to work on."
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 342 yards, with 117 of those to Roddy White. But the Falcons were slow in igniting their offense, going into comeback mode for the entire second half. Ryan was 34 of 49 with two touchdown throws.
Ryan's 11-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones brought the Falcons to within 23-13 with 13:57 remaining. A two-point conversion pass was incomplete.
Atlanta (11-2) moved into Carolina territory on its next possession, but Ryan's fourth-down pass was intercepted by Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis at the 40-yard line.
"We were able to finish," Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "We haven't been able to do it and now we have."
Newton said, "We've been in this situation too many times this year and let the ball drop."
Michael Turner's 1-yard touchdown run for the Falcons came with 53 seconds left.
Newton did his work on the ground with nine rushes. Newton was called upon for only 10 of his 35 pass attempts after halftime.
The Falcons, who posted at least 19 points in every previous game this season, didn't score until 4:48 remained in the third quarter on Ryan's 4-yard pass to White. The 13-play, 84-yard drive included a fourth-and-4 conversion from the Carolina 13-yard line.
The Panthers (4-9) talked during the week about how they were intent on reversing the Sept. 30 outcome, when the result contributed to a five-game losing streak from which the team was unable to recover. The Falcons won that game, 30-28, in Atlanta.
"You've got to win the ones you can win," Carolina receiver Steve Smith said. "It was great to play a full game. Unfortunately, it came 10 (weeks) later to figure it out."
Atlanta, which had 35 yards on 13 first-half snaps, gained 31 yards on the first three plays of the second half before punting.
It was another sign of a sluggish performance for a team that with a victory would have been on the verge of clinching home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
"They played better football in all three phases and it's something we can learn from," Falcons center Todd McClure said. "We have to get going. We have to get to playing our best football this time of the year."
The Panthers scored on the game's opening drive, going 11 plays with tight end Greg Olsen catching a 25-yard touchdown strike from Newton.
"Now you know what we're capable of and now we have to be able to hone in," Newton said.
Carolina's next possession ended with Graham Gano's 24-yard field goal to complete a 17-play, 72-yard drive that included Newton's fourth-and-1 pickup and his stirring 13-yard scramble on third-and-11.
Gano's 41-yard field goal with 4:58 left in the first half pushed the edge to 13-0. His 31-yarder on the last play of the half made it 16-0.
The Falcons had the ball for five offensive snaps in the game's first 19 minutes. Carolina had 28 plays during that span.
"We couldn't sustain drives on third down offensively," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. "We couldn't even come close to getting them off the field on third down."
Newton's 45 first-half rushing yards were more than Atlanta's total output on offense. The Falcons finished with 35 rushing yards.
Notes: The Panthers won the coin toss for the first time this season, drawing a roar from the home crowd. They chose to receive the ball at the game's start and scored a touchdown on the first possession. ... Panthers C Geoff Hangartner left in the third quarter with an injured left leg. Teammate S Haruki Nakamura left later with a groin injury, with S Colin Jones filling in. ... The Falcons, who've already clinched the division, finished 1-2 in NFC South road games, the lone victory by one point Nov. 25 at Tampa Bay.