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Falcons vs. Panthers Recap: Atlanta crushed 34-3 by Carolina in winner-take-all game

The Atlanta Falcons were dominated 34-3 by the Carolina Panthers with the division title and a trip to the postseason on the line.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With a chance to take the division and advance to the playoffs, the Atlanta Falcons' 2014 season ended with a whimper.

The Falcons didn't put up much of a fight as the Carolina Panthers delivered a 34-3 shellacking to win the NFC South and become to the first back-to-back winners of the division.

The Panthers set the tone early as they took the opening kickoff 77 yards down the field with ease. And although the drive ended in a 21-yard field goal from Graham Gano, it was clear the Falcons had their hands full.

Atlanta looked out of sorts all game.

Defensively, the team was helpless as Cam Newton and the Panthers repeatedly found success running the ball.

But offensively is where the team really struggled.

The Falcons' offensive line - a unit that hadn't surrendered a sack in the past two games - was dominated by Carolina's defensive front. The effort was reminiscent of last season's finale in which the Panthers defense sacked Matt Ryan nine times.

Only this time, the score reflected the domination.

Ed Dickson's four-yard touchdown reception on Carolina's second drive of the game gave the Panthers a 10-0 lead. And while things looked grim for the Falcons right out the gate, Devin Hester gave the fans in the Georgia Dome a bit of life as he returned the ensuing kickoff 66 yards to set Atlanta up with great field position.

But 10 plays and 35 yards later, the Falcons were only able to put three points on the board with a 21-yard Matt Bryant field goal.

That's the only time the Falcons would score.

A 31-yard pick six by Roman Harper gave the Panthers a 17-3 lead. Then, on the very next drive, Roddy White fumbled and it was recovered by Thomas Davis.

Newton scored from four yards out and suddenly the Panthers were rolling, taking a 24-3 lead going into halftime.

Carolina's domination continued after the break.

Atlanta's drive to open the second half ended in a three and out after Ryan was sacked on back-to-back plays.

Newton led Carolina to another three points and Atlanta responded with another three and out.

The Falcons' only promising drive in the second half came to an abrupt end when Ryan's fourth down pass intended for Harry Douglas was intercepted by Tre Boston and returned 84 yards to give Carolina an insurmountable 34-3 lead.

There's blame to be placed all across the board for the Falcons' performance. Ultimately, it will likely end in the firing of head coach Mike Smith, among others. It's a sad end to a regime that brought the franchise the best five-year stretch its ever seen.