Johnson spent so much time in the backfield he should've worn an Atlanta jersey, finishing with 3½ sacks. Ryan was hit nine times after throwing and hurried on eight other attempts.
"The offensive line did a great job," Ryan said, all evidence to the contrary. "If you're going to throw the football that far down the field, you need some time. The guys did a great job of pass protection, giving us time to throw it down there."
Newton's fumble ruined what had been a stellar performance. He threw for 215 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown to Greg Olsen early in the game, then a 36-yard scoring play to Kealoha Pilares that put the Panthers ahead 28-24 with 7:55 remaining.
Newton also ran for 86 yards on nine carries, bulling his way into the end zone from 4 yards late in the third quarter.
The Panthers played much better than they did in their last outing, a 36-7 home loss to the New York Giants, but it wasn't enough to prevent them from sliding a daunting three games behind Atlanta in the NFC South.
"I want to apologize to my teammates and the fans that were watching out there," Newton said. "Everybody was doing their job. I clearly had the first down, but I've just got to hold onto the football."
Ryan also connected on a 60-yard touchdown with Michael Turner, who took a screen pass right about the line of scrimmage and zigzagged down the field for the first scoring reception of his nine-year career.
DeAngelo Williams scored Carolina's other TD on a 13-yard run.
Notes: The Falcons failed to score a TD on their opening possession for the first time this season, going three-and-out. Also, it was the first time the Panthers did not allow a touchdown on their opponent's opening drive. ... Nakamura had an early interception, but it was largely a day to forget for the Carolina free safety. He was beaten on both of White's touchdown receptions, missed a tackle on Turner's scoring play and had the ball snatched away by White on the long pass that set up the winning field goal. ... Atlanta's only other 4-0 start came in 1986.
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