First-half observations: Panthers-Falcons

ATLANTA -- For much of the first half, the Atlanta Falcons looked like the team playing to win the NFC South instead of the Carolina Panthers.

Then cornerback Melvin White returned an interception 7 yards for a touchdown.

Then quarterback Cam Newton led what had been an anemic offense 94 yards, capped by a 3-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with 19 seconds left that gave the Panthers a 14-10 lead.

Here are my first-half observations:

First of the year: The Panthers hadn't given up a touchdown on the opponent's opening possession all season until Sunday. Matt Ryan went 7-for-7 for 62 yards and a touchdown as the Falcons marched easily downfield for the score, a 9-yard catch by running back Jason Snelling.

Bad first quarter: That might have been Carolina's worst first quarter offensively. Atlanta held the Panthers to 12 yards and one first down. Newton was 1-for-4 passing.

Hardy rush: Defensive end Greg Hardy, named to the Pro Bowl on Friday, had two first-half sacks to give him five in the last six quarters. Had he done this all season, perhaps he would have gotten to the 50 he half-jokingly predicted before the season. As it stands, he has 13.

Missed opportunity: DeAngelo Williams broke free for a 59-yard reception on a swing pass for Carolina's first offensive movement of the day. But he fumbled around the Atlanta 15-yard line and the Falcons recovered at the 4 with 8:43 left in the second quarter. It was a rare fumble by the back.

Opportunistic: Two plays after Williams fumbled, White picked off a Ryan pass on a miscommunication with the receiver and returned it 7 yards for the touchdown. He needs to work on his dunk over the goal post, though. He lost the ball on the way up.