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The Journal Gazette

Monday, November 06, 2017 1:00 am

Carolina 20 Atlanta 17

Newton, Panthers rally past Falcons

STEVE REED | Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Cam Newton felt the Carolina Panthers needed an emotional lift. He gave them one on Sunday.

An energetic and seemingly motivated Newton ran for 86 yards and a scored on a head-first diving 9-yard touchdown run as the Carolina Panthers erased an early 10-point deficit to beat the NFC South-rival Atlanta Falcons 20-17.

Newton pumped his fist, flexed his muscles and played up to the crowd in a game he knew the Panthers (6-3) had to have to remain a half-game behind the first-place Saints in the NFC South.

“When the Panthers are emotionless, good things don't happen,” Newton said. “If we can get Bank of America Stadium with a pulse, that's when we are at our best. And that is what I was trying to do.”

Newton was coming off an emotional week in which his top target – and best friend on the team – Kelvin Benjamin was traded to Buffalo.

With Benjamin gone, the Panthers turned back to their running game, racking up a season-high 201 yards on the ground. Newton led the Panthers' rushing attack for the fourth straight week, while rookie Christian McCaffrey added a career-high 66 yards rushing and a touchdown. Devin Funchess, now Carolina's No. 1 receiver, had 86 yards on five catches.

“It was a good team win,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.

And another tough loss for the Falcons (4-4).

Atlanta continued to struggle running the ball, Matt Ryan had a costly first half interception and a wide-open Julio Jones dropped a 39-yard touchdown pass in the end zone.

“With fumbles and drops and things like that, we're not trying to do it,” Jones said. “It's just happening.”

The Panthers spotted the Falcons 10 points before the game turned late in the first half, with Carolina scoring two touchdowns in the final 2:35 to take the lead for good.

The Falcons failed to convert a fourth-and-1 at the Carolina 35 when Devonta Freeman was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

With the crowd fired up, Newton took just six plays to get the Panthers into the end zone, shuffling a pitchout to McCaffrey for a 4-yard score.