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10/17/2011 5:34 AM EDT
Falcons rally to beat Newton's Panthers 31-17
ATLANTA 31, CAROLINA 17

By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer

ATLANTA (AP) -- Now that's more like it, Atlanta Falcons.

Returning to the formula that worked so well the last three
years, the Falcons kept handing the ball to Michael Turner and
finally looked like the team that's supposed to be a Super Bowl
contender.

"We need to get our identity back, and that starts with running
the football," said Turner, who rumbled for 139 yards and two
touchdowns in Sunday's 31-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
"We want to bury teams."

The Falcons (3-3) were clearly intent on re-establishing their
trademark offensive style against a vulnerable defense. Turner
had a season-high 27 carries, and Atlanta ran the ball 35 times
in all - 13 more than they threw it.

"We'd like to be able to do that every week," said Matt Ryan,
who passed for just 163 yards - and didn't mind a bit.

For Cam Newton and the rebuilding Panthers, it was another tough
loss.

Carolina (1-5) has been in every game, but keeps coming up short
at the end. Newton had three interceptions in his homecoming to
Atlanta, including a crucial pick by defensive tackle Corey
Peters that set up the Falcons' clinching TD during a 17-point
fourth quarter.

"At some point, you've got to look yourself in the mirror and
ask yourself what can you do to make it better," Newton said.
"It's not the time that you point the fingers and say, 'It's his
fault.' It's time that we as a team take ownership of
ourselves."

Newton, who grew up just a few miles south of the Georgia Dome,
wowed the crowd much of the day. He threw for 237 yards and took
off on a 14-yard touchdown run that put the Panthers ahead 17-14
heading to the final quarter. He even celebrated with Deion
Sanders' high-step dance in the end zone, marking a day when the
retired Hall of Famer was honored by the Falcons at halftime.

Then, things turned sour.

After Matt Bryant's tying field goal, Ryan scored on a 1-yard
sneak to put the Falcons ahead 24-17. Newton got the ball back,
only to make his biggest blunder of the day trying to set up a
screen pass.

Corey Peters, a 305-pound defensive tackle, caught the rookie
quarterback off guard by dropping into coverage. When Newton
flipped a short pass, Peters reached up with one hand to pick it
off at the Carolina 40.

The Falcons offense did the rest, driving for the clinching
touchdown. Turner barreled into the end zone from 2 yards out
with 1:56 left to hand the Panthers another excruciating loss.
Their first four defeats were by a total of 18 points, and this
one was much closer than the two-touchdown margin.

"Not good. Not acceptable," first-year coach Ron Rivera said.
"We're six weeks into this. It's time for us to start to play
like we've been around."

Turner also scored on a 1-yard run at the end of the first
quarter and broke a streak of three straight games without
reaching 100 yards. Ryan, who was averaging more than 39 passes
a game, completed 14 of 22 in more of a complementary role.

"It started with the O-line," Turner said. "They came out with a
nasty attitude today, that they were going to move the line of
scrimmage. I love to see green, man. You give me some space,
I'll do what I do."

Newton finished 21 of 35, including a deflected pass that was
picked off in the end zone with less than a minute left in the
first half. His third interception didn't really matter, coming
on a desperation pass into the end zone on the final play of the
game.

The rookie also led the Panthers in rushing with 50 yards on six
carries.

Ryan threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Ovie Mughelli, giving the
Falcons a 14-10 lead at halftime. Jonathan Stewart scored
Carolina's first touchdown on a 1-yard run, after Olindo Mare
opened the scoring for the Panthers with a 42-yard field goal.

The Panthers didn't have to punt until late in the third
quarter, but the Atlanta defense took control in the final
period. Carolina's final four possessions ended with two punts
and a pair of interceptions.

Newton was playing at the Georgia Dome for the first time since
he accounted for six touchdowns in the Southeastern Conference
championship game last December, leading Auburn to a 56-17 rout
of South Carolina. The Tigers went on to claim the national
title, and Newton headed to the pros as the top overall pick and
a Heisman Trophy winner.

The wins have been a lot harder to come by in the NFL.

"We had an excellent game plan going into the week, but the
coaches can only do so much," Newton said. "It's time for the
players to start stepping up and making plays."

Notes: Turner has rushed for 100 yards 22 times in his Falcons
career, tied for second in team history with William Andrews.
Gerald Riggs leads with 25 games topping the century mark. ...
The Falcons wore throwback uniforms, donning red helmets and
black jerseys. In keeping with that theme, Mughelli celebrated
his touchdown with the "Dirty Bird" dance, which became famous
during the team's lone Super Bowl season in 1998. ... Atlanta
did a good job shutting down Carolina's top receiver, Steve
Smith, who came into the game averaging nearly 23 yards per
catch and more than 121 yards per game. He was held to five
receptions for 66 yards.

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