Thursday, February 22, 2018
Sports

Falcons earn division title

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A raucous cheer erupted from behind the closed doors of Atlanta's locker room Saturday.

The Falcons didn't officially have anything to celebrate in public yet — other than sweeping the three-time defending NFC South champion Panthers — but they knew they were close.

Matt Ryan threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns, and Tevin Coleman had 135 yards from scrimmage, including a pivotal 55-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run, helping the Falcons to a 33-16 win over the Panthers.

The Bucs' loss later to the Saints gave Atlanta the NFC South championship.

"This is a tough place to win," Ryan said. "I know that. I've been playing here for a long time. They're always well prepared and play really, really hard, so it was a good win for us."

The Falcons earned their first NFC South title since 2012.

"Coming into (training) camp we wanted the division," Falcons rookie safety and former Gator Keanu Neal said. "As long as you own the division, you control your own destiny."

A few straggling Falcons fans chanted "MVP!" at Ryan in the game's closing minutes.

"He deserves the MVP," Falcons running back Devonta Freeman said. "And if he doesn't get it, he's still my MVP."

Ryan set an NFL single-season record by throwing touchdowns to 13 different players. Five are tight ends, including Joshua Perkins and D.J. Tialavea, who caught TDs Saturday.

"I can name all my tight ends," Ryan joked. "It's good to know your teammates."

Ryan torched the Panthers for the second time this season. He threw for 503 yards and four TDs in Atlanta's Week 4 win over Carolina at the Georgia Dome.

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