The Falcons punched their ticket to the postseason.
And the Panthers created some reasonable doubt about what they might do once they get there.
Atlanta secured the final wild card spot in the NFC with a 22-10 win over the Panthers, who no longer appear capable of professional offense.
Quarterback Cam Newton missed his first nine passes, and finished the day 14-of-34 for 180 yards and three interceptions. He was consistently high on passes, but that isn’t necessarily new for him.
Mostly, their lack of targets finally caught up with them. Even though their offense improved when they traded wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo, and the guys they lost to injury (Curtis Samuel, Damiere Byrd) aren’t exactly Pro Bowlers, the guys who remain can’t get themselves open.
Tight end Greg Olsen had just one catch for 10 yards on nine targets (and a late interception went off a hand for a Falcons tip-drill pick), and running back Christian McCaffrey had a key drop late. And on a day when running back Jonathan Stewart was out with a back injury, the Panthers (11-5) managed just 248 yards on the day.
Their defense nearly enabled them to win anyway, but they might be hard-pressed to match firepower next week against the Saints.
The Falcons (10-6) will go to Los Angeles next week to play the Rams, as the NFC South sends three teams to the playoffs.