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Panthers claim NFC South crown with win over Falcons

Atlanta, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - Cam Newton tossed two touchdown passes and the Panthers' potent defense made life miserable for Atlanta's Matt Ryan, as Carolina claimed the NFC South crown with a 21-20 win over the Falcons on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

Newton completed 15-of-27 passes for 149 yards with an interception and added 72 rushing yards on 12 carries for Carolina (12-4), which secured a first- round bye in the playoffs with its 11th win in the last 12 games.

The defense, meanwhile, sacked Ryan nine times, including a Carolina single- game record four from end Greg Hardy, while also receiving an 8-yard interception return TD from rookie cornerback Melvin White en route to the team's first division title since 2008.

Carolina can also secure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a Seattle loss and a San Francisco win. The Seahawks host St. Louis, while the 49ers visit Arizona on Sunday.

With their postseason hopes long gone, the Falcons (4-12) were looking to play spoiler while also trying to send Tony Gonzalez out on a high note, with the legendary tight end expected to retire at season's end.

Gonzalez finished with four catches for 56 yards and, if it truly is over, the 13-time Pro Bowler will finish his career with a number of NFL records at the tight end position, including most career receiving yards, most career receptions and most touchdown catches.

12/29 16:15:02 ET