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Carolina Panthers

Winning football, start to finish


CHARLOTTE – The odds of losing 13 consecutive coin tosses, as the Panthers had managed from the beginning of the season until Sunday, is 1 in 8,192, or roughly 0.0001221 percent.

Contrary to popular belief, the chances of a 3-9 NFL team defeating an 11-1 team aren't that long.

"All we've listened to is how good their offense is and how well they've been playing and their record," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "But all that stuff goes out the door when you take the field and you line up."

Apparently so.

The Panthers won the coin toss and simply kept on winning from there, dominating the Falcons to the tune of a 30-20 victory at Bank of America Stadium that made it seem like the most unlikely scenario in play Sunday was the Panthers' win-loss record.

"It was complete," head coach Ron Rivera said. "These guys have given great effort all year, but this is what we need to do in terms of completing games.

"This shows you what we're capable of, and that's the sad part too because those are the same guys – and some different guys because of the injuries. We are capable of big things."

Alas, the 2012 version of the Panthers is officially incapable of big things, having been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention a week ago. The Falcons, on the other hand, clinched the NFL South title last week.

But Sunday, it was hard to tell which team was technically playing out the string and which team was preparing to play for a ring.

"I'm proud of our team because as everybody knows, when you're in the situation we're in and you're in December, it's easy for guys to give up and not fight," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "It was a good day."

And it all started, innocently enough but interestingly enough, with the coin toss.

"I've never heard a crowd cheer so loud for winning the coin toss," Gross said. "It was hilarious. I was pumping my fist. It was awesome."

What followed was totally awesome.

The Panthers played their most complete half of the season, controlling every aspect of the game to lead 16-0 at halftime. The Falcons' great accomplishment of the half was holding Carolina to three field goals on the three consecutive possessions after the Panthers took advantage of the coin toss and marched 77 yards for a touchdown.

The Panthers had twice as many scoring plays in the first half (four) as the Falcons had first downs (two).

"We wanted to come out and set the tone very early. That was one of the goals going into the game, offensively, defensively and special teams," quarterback Cam Newton said. "And as you saw, we came out and did our thing."

When Graham Gano booted his third field goal of the half, a 31-yarder on the final play before halftime, the Panthers enjoyed a 16-point lead – the same size lead they enjoyed at the half in a Week 14 home game against the Falcons last season.

A year ago, Atlanta scored 24 unanswered points after halftime to pull out a 31-23 victory. Sunday, the Panthers scored the first points of the second half – an electrifying 72-yard touchdown run by Newton – then staved off a short-lived Falcons rally.

Sunday's game finished just as it started, with fired-up Panthers fans standing and cheering. In the end, though, it was for more than a coin toss.

"It just shows that we have the ability," Rivera said. "It's taken us awhile to come together and do those things, but I'd like to believe that somewhere along the line we've found the formula."

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