The Panthers found their defining moment Sunday.
After some players said earlier in the week they wanted another shot at the Atlanta Falcons after a bitter last-second loss to them in late September, the Panthers backed up their bravado with an impressive 30-20 victory Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
The Falcons (12-2) entered the game with the best record in the NFC and tied with Houston for the best record in the NFL.
Quarterback Cam Newton completed 23 of 35 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns while also scoring on a spectacular 72-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter.
The Panthers (4-9) clinched their biggest victory of the season when Newton found running back DeAngelo Williams with a short pass and Williams went 53 yards for a touchdown that put the Panthers ahead 30-1 with 4:11 remaining.
It was a day filled with big plays by the Panthers, who will play at San Diego next Sunday.
In a play that will live on in highlight reels for years, Newton staked the Panthers to a 23-0 lead when he found an opening off the left side of the Panthers' line and went 72 yards for a third-quarter touchdown. Newton followed wide receiver Steve Smith for the final 10 yards, using the blocks to reach the end zone where he somersaulted in for the score.
Then the Falcons went to work.
Ryan found Roddy White for a four-yard touchdown to cut the Carolina lead to 23-7, converting on long third-down situations.
The Falcons cut the Carolina lead to 23-13 early in the fourth quarter on an 11-yard Ryan touchdown pass to White. The Panthers caught a break when the Falcons' two-point play failed after an apparent reception was ruled incomplete via replay.
Linebacker Thomas Davis then stalled the Falcons' comeback attempt when he made a diving interception of a Ryan pass at the Panthers' 40-yard line with 6:19 remaining in the game.
The first half may have been the Panthers' most dominating 30 minutes of the season as they built a 16-0 lead.
The Panthers out gained the Falcons 270-35 in the first half and had the ball for nearly 24 of the first 30 minutes.
Newton was 17 of 25 passing for 178 yards and one touchdown. Newton and DeAngelo Williams combined for 88 rushing yards in the first half.
The game got off to a good start for the Panthers, who won the pre-game coin flip for the first time this season. Including an overtime coin flip, the Panthers were 0-13 before winning the toss Sunday when the Falcons called tails and it came up heads.
Whether that had anything to do with it or not, the Panthers dominated the early part of the game, outgaining the Falcons 119-9 in the first quarter. The Panthers took a 7-0 lead in the opening possession, marching 77 yards on 11 plays with tight end Greg Olsen making a leaping catch for a 25-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton.
After forcing a quick Atlanta punt, the Panthers kept the ball for 9 minutes, 17 seconds, grinding out 17 plays before settling for a 24-yard Graham Gano field goal with 10:55 remaining in the second quarter. Gano added a 41-yard field goal with 4:58 remaining in the half to push the Panthers' lead to 13-0 then closed out the half with a 31-yard Gano field goal.
Having sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan seven times in their early-season loss at Atlanta, the Panthers got early pressure on Ryan again with Frank Kearse getting his first sack of the season in the first quarter.