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Ryan throws 4 TDs as Falcons beat Panthers

Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons calls out

Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons calls out to his teammates against the Carolina Panthers. (Dec. 11, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Matt Ryan led Atlanta to another comeback victory over the Carolina Panthers, keeping the Falcons in the playoff chase.

Ryan threw two of his four touchdown passes in the fourth-quarter to rookie Julio Jones and the Falcons erased a 16-point deficit for a 31-23 victory on Sunday. Ryan finished with 320 yards and his four TD passes matched a career high.

Atlanta (8-5) remains in playoff position in the NFC wild card race.

The first time the teams met, the Falcons trailed by three points in the fourth quarter but rallied for a 31-17 win on Oct. 16. For the Panthers (4-9), it was the sixth time this season they've lost after being ahead or tied in the fourth quarter.

Cam Newton started strong, completing 9 of 14 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns in the first half as the Panthers built a 23-7 lead. But Newton was intercepted twice in the second half, including once on a poor decision where he tried the shovel the ball ahead with his non-throwing left hand as he was falling to the ground. The result was a gift interception for Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson.

Ryan cashed in two plays later as running back Marquizz Rodgers beat linebacker James Anderson for a 31-yard touchdown.

Ryan's comeback shouldn't surprise anyone -- he seems to have Carolina's number. He's won six of his last seven starts against the Panthers.

He was particularly sharp in the second half, throwing for 232 yards and three scores. The Falcons are 21-0 when Ryan finishes with a quarterback rating of 100 or more.

Jones, who finished with 104 yards receiving, was quiet for most of the game but caught a 17-yard touchdown pass to give the Falcons a 24-23 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Despite their struggles in the second half, the Panthers looked poised to regain the lead, but Newton couldn't hook up with Greg Olsen in the back of the end zone and the Panthers had to settle for a 36-yard field goal attempt.

Olindo Mare, just as he'd done against Minnesota, pushed a potential go-ahead his field goal wide left.

The Falcons seized the momentum.

Two plays later, on second-and-11, Jones caught a pass over the middle and broke a tackle and raced 75 yards to the end zone.

Earlier this week Panthers coach Ron Rivera said this was a statement game for his young team.

"The statement is that we still have a long ways to go as a football team," Rivera said. "We're a young team. You have to keep the foot down on the accelerator which we didn't do today."

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