Panthers wrap up NFC South title
ATLANTA — Carolina's blueprint for playoff success has been set: Let the sack-happy defense lead the way and hope dual-threat quarterback Cam Newton can add just enough offense.
Newton threw for two touchdowns, Greg Hardy had a team-record four sacks and the Panthers clinched their first NFC South title in five years by beating the Falcons.
"Now we can cross that goal off," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "Now we can concentrate, get guys healthy and get ready to go."
In their first trip to the playoffs since 2008, the Panthers secured a first-round bye and the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
Newton said it was important to earn the bye. Wide receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart were inactive with knee injuries.
"We've got a lot of guys that we need back that play an intricate role in making this team go," Newton said.
Carolina set a team record by sacking Matt Ryan nine times.