CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Atlanta Falcons are 4-6 - and tied for first place in the lowly NFC South.
Matt Ryan threw for 268 yards and a touchdown, Matt Bryant added four field goals and the Falcons held off a late rally by the Carolina Panthers to win 19-17 on Sunday.
Bryant's 44-yard field goal with 2:08 left put Atlanta ahead for good, and the Falcons withstood a late Carolina rally led by Cam Newton. Carolina's Graham Gano missed a 46-yard field goal try with 1:27 remaining and had a 63-yarder blocked as time expired.
The Falcons moved into a tie with New Orleans for the division lead after the Saints lost at home to Cincinnati 27-10.
Newton overcame two early interceptions to throw for 292 yards and a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, but it wasn't enough for the Panthers (3-6-1), who have lost five straight and are 1-7-1 in their last nine. It would be easy to say the Panthers are done, but you never know in the NFC South, where they're just a half-game out of first heading into a bye week.
The Panthers trailed 16-3 in the fourth quarter before a sluggish Newton started to heat up.
Rookie Kelvin Benjamin made a juggling 22-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone to give the Panthers some life. On the next possession, another rookie receiver, Philly Brown, got behind cornerback Robert McClain and caught a 47-yard touchdown pass as he fell back into the end zone to briefly give the Panthers a 17-16 lead.
But Ryan moved the Falcons into field goal range, completing three passes for 29 yards to Harry Douglas to set up Bryant's go-ahead kick.
Newton still had something left, moving Carolina to the Atlanta 29 behind a series of short completions before Carolina got conservative. Gano, who had made 18 of 20 this season before that attempt, hooked a 46-yarder wide left.
The Panthers forced a punt and moved into Atlanta territory behind a pair of hook-and-ladder plays to set up another chance for Gano. But his kick was low and blocked by rookie Ra'Shede Hagemen as the clock expired.
The Falcons seized momentum when Desmond Trufant made a nice break on Newton's pass over the middle on the first possession of the third quarter, intercepting the ball and returning it 19 yards to the Carolina 14. Atlanta had to settle for Bryant's field goal, though.
Roddy White's 4-yard catch to give the Falcons a 16-3 lead was Atlanta's only touchdown.
Things got heated after that.
Devin Hester was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after knocking a Carolina player off the pile at the end of a play, igniting a lot of pushing and shoving. Two plays later, Carolina's Thomas Davis stripped Hester and Luke Kuechly recovered, starting another brief altercation with Jacquizz Rodgers taking down Kuechly, although no flag was thrown.
The day started off rough for Newton.
After he was sacked nine times in Carolina's 45-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, Falcons defensive Tyler Jackson raced in unblocked and delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on the quarterback on Carolina's first play from scrimmage. Jackson was flagged for a 15-yard penalty, but Newton got up holding his chin and didn't seem right until late in the game.