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Panthers Clinch Playoff Spot With Rout

January 02, 2006|From the Associated Press

ATLANTA — The Carolina Panthers had the right opponent for clinching a trip to the playoffs -- the listless, banged-up Atlanta Falcons, who seemed more interested with getting started on the off-season.

DeShaun Foster rushed for 165 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown, the longest scoring run in team history, and Jake Delhomme threw for two touchdowns to lead the Panthers to a 44-11 rout of the Falcons on Sunday.

Carolina (11-5) clinched one of the two NFC playoff spots still available going into Week 17, settling for a wild card when Tampa Bay clinched the South Division title with a win over New Orleans.

The Panthers will travel to New York to play the Giants on Sunday.

Carolina is going back to the playoffs after reaching the Super Bowl two seasons ago. The Panthers got off to a 1-7 start last year, then made a remarkable turnaround to give themselves a postseason chance going into the final week, but were eliminated by a 21-18 home loss to the New Orleans Saints.

"The opportunities we missed last season and the run we made contributed to all the hard work the guys put in during the off-season," said Steve Smith, who had nine catches for 131 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown.

With only two victories in their final eight games, the Falcons (8-8) not only missed the playoffs after going to the NFC championship game last season, they also kept alive the franchise's failure to post consecutive winning seasons in its 40-year history.

"It's going to be hard to watch [the playoffs]," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "It makes me sick to my stomach."

Atlanta trailed, 27-3, at halftime and most of the home fans were gone by the start of the final quarter.

The Falcons had nothing to play for -- and it showed. Michael Vick had one carry, finishing with zero yards rushing for the first time in his career.

He wasn't much better through the air, going 15 of 24 for 115 yards, including an interception.

"I wouldn't say we let down our fans, but we wanted to go 9-7 and get rid of that 40-year problem we've had," Coach Jim Mora said. "We didn't get that done. I'm upbeat about this football team.... We're putting together a culture here in Atlanta that will prove to be a winning culture for many, many years."

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