Jonathan Stewart

Falcons clinch playoff spot, beat Panthers on Bryant’s 5 FGs

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ATLANTA (AP) Matt Bryant kicked five field goals, including a 56-yarder, for all of Atlanta’s second-half points and the Falcons clinched a playoff spot by beating the Carolina Panthers 22-10 on Sunday.

After the teams played to a 7-7 halftime tie, the 42-year-old Bryant kicked field goals of 30, 42, 30, 56 and 33 yards without a miss.

Atlanta (10-6) clinched the No. 6 seed in the NFC and will play at the Los Angeles Rams next week in the first round of the playoffs.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

On a day when Cam Newton and the Panthers’ offense struggled, Bryant’s 15 points provided a margin too great for Carolina to overcome.

The Panthers (11-5) had a playoff spot secured entering the weekend, but they couldn’t improve their position.

Minnesota’s 23-10 win over Chicago earlier Sunday ended the Panthers’ hopes of a first-round bye. The loss to the Falcons ended Carolina’s goal of winning the NFC South, and the Panthers will open the playoffs at New Orleans.

Matt Ryan completed 28 of 45 passes for 317 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown pass to Devonta Freeman on Atlanta’s opening drive, and no interceptions.

The Panthers pulled even on Newton’s 4-yard scoring pass to Devin Funchess late in the first half.

Newton threw three second-half interceptions. The third interception, by Robert Alford in the end zone with 8 seconds remaining, ended the Panthers’ final drive. Newton completed 14 of 34 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown.

With the game tied in the third quarter, the Falcons had an apparent touchdown taken off the board when a review showed Mohamed Sanu didn’t maintain control of a 12-yard catch in the end zone. The ball hit the ground after Sanu collided with Julio Jones, who also was crossing to the middle of the end zone.

The Falcons settled for Bryant’s first 30-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.

Newton led the Panthers on a 16-play touchdown drive that consumed more than half of the second quarter and tied the game at 7. Newton gained the needed yard on a fourth-down keeper, but the true back-breaking play for Atlanta’s defense was his 27-yard pass to Brenton Bersin on a third-and-23 play. The pass set up Newton’s 4-yard scoring pass to Funchess.

SLOW START

Newton was 0 for 9 before finally completing his final seven passes of the first half. Newton completed his first pass to McCaffrey – for a loss of 3 yards – midway through the second quarter.

MILESTONE FOR JULIO

Jones caught a 14-yard pass midway through the third quarter to reach 9,000 career yards faster than any receiver since the 1970 merger.

The two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl selection last month set the league mark with the most catches and yards receiving in a receiver’s first 90 games.

Jones finished with five catches for 80 yards. He survived an injury scare after he took a big hit from Carolina strong safety Mike Adams on the opening drive. He returned to the field on the same drive, which ended with Ryan’s touchdown pass to Freeman.

NO STEWART

Running back Jonathan Stewart was due to back tightness. The Panthers also were without two more starters: safety Kurt Coleman (ankle), and right guard Trai Turner (concussion).

UP NEXT

Panthers: Carolina will play at New Orleans next week in the first round of the NFC playoffs.

Falcons: Atlanta will visit the Rams next week in the first round of the playoffs.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Stewart runs for 3 TDs, Panthers beat Vikings 31-24

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jonathan Stewart ran for 103 yards and three touchdowns, and the Carolina Panthers snapped the Minnesota Vikings’ eight-game winning streak with a 31-24 victory Sunday.

Cam Newton threw for 137 yards and a touchdown and ran for 75 yards as the Panthers (9-4) racked up 216 yards on the ground against the league’s No. 2 ranked defense to pull even with the Saints atop the NFC South standings.

Carolina sacked Case Keenum six times and forced three turnovers to keep the Vikings (10-3) from clinching the NFC North division title.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

After the Panthers squandered an 11-point fourth quarter lead, Newton broke free of the pocket and raced 62 yards for a key first down with 2 minutes remaining. Stewart scored his career-high third TD when he jumped over the line of scrimmage, reaching the ball across the goal line for a 31-24 lead.

Minnesota couldn’t manage a first down on its final drive and turned the ball over on downs.

The Panthers seemed in control midway through the fourth quarter leading 24-13 after Newton made an off-balance throw to Devin Funchess for an 18-yard touchdown, and Mario Addison‘s strip-sack set up Graham Gano‘s field goal.

But the Vikings came charging back to tie it as Keenum hooked up on a 52-yard scoring strike on a crossing route. Blake Bell added 2-point conversion catch to cut the lead to three.

On Carolina’s next possession, Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo intercepted Newton on a ball that sailed off the hands of Christian McCaffrey and returned it to the Carolina 6. But Carolina’s defense had a huge stop, holding the Vikings to a field goal leaving the game tied with 3:07 left.

INJURIES:

Vikings: Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur left game with a foot injury and did not return.

Panthers: Tight end Greg Olsen left briefly after re-injuring his foot, but did return.

UP NEXT

Vikings: Host the Bengals next Sunday.

Panthers: Host the Packers next Sunday.

More AP NFL: http://pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Panthers Super Bowl LI betting favorites despite defeat

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Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers came up short in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday despite being the clear betting favorites for the contest at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The Panthers, however, are expected to be contenders for the title once again next season, as they opened among the favorites on the odds to win Super Bowl LI at the sportsbooks.

Carolina fell 24-10 to Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Santa Clara on Sunday, with Newton completing just 18 of his 41 pass attempts for 265 yards against the smothering Denver defense with no touchdowns and one interception. Newton also ran for 45 yards on six carries, while Jonathan Stewart ran for 29 yards and scored the team’s lone touchdown.

The Panthers had the best record in the NFL during the regular season at 15-1, and completed their campaign at 17-2 straight up and 13-6 against the spread. So despite their stumble at Super Bowl 50 the Panthers still opened as +900 co-favorites on the odds to win Super Bowl 51 – putting them tied with the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks.

The Patriots were edged 20-18 by the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, after slipping in the final weeks of the regular season and ceding home-field advantage in the AFC side of the playoff bracket to their rivals. The Seahawks ran up against the Panthers in the second round of the playoffs, falling 31-24 at Bank of America Stadium. Seattle finished 10-6 during the regular season last year, while New England was 12-4.

The Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers are both set at +1200 on the early odds to win Super Bowl 51, with Green Bay falling to the Arizona Cardinals in the second round of the playoffs and Pittsburgh losing to Denver in the second round. Both the Packers and the Steelers suffered key injuries in the past season and will be looking to be healthier in 2016.

The Cardinals then are set at +1400 on the odds to win Super Bowl 51, after they were crushed 49-15 by the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. Arizona was 13-3 in 2015.

And the Broncos are then tied with the Dallas Cowboys at +1600 on the opening Super Bowl 51 odds, with Denver’s quarterback situation in flux as Manning decides on his retirement plans. Despite a sub-par and injury-filled year from Manning in 2015 the Broncos still claimed the top seed in the AFC on tiebreakers at 12-4; Brock Osweiler played a chunk of that slate.

Dallas will be hoping a full season out of quarterback Tony Romo gets them back into the mix.

Rounding out the top contenders on the early Super Bowl 51 odds, the Cincinnati Bengals are at +2000, with the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, and Minnesota Vikings at +2500.