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