Originally created 10/04/04

Falcons remain undefeated



CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Carolina Panthers finally found a way to contain Michael Vick.

It didn't matter.

The Atlanta Falcons still found a way to win, moving to 4-0 to match the best start in franchise history.

Warrick Dunn had a 38-yard touchdown run and Kevin Mathis returned an interception 35 yards for another score to lead Atlanta to a 27-10 victory over Carolina on Sunday. The Falcons last opened the season 4-0 in 1986.

They won without the typical one-man show Vick usually puts on against the Panthers (1-2).

Normally unable to stop Vick from racking up astronomical numbers, the Panthers held him to 148 yards passing and 35 yards rushing in this meeting. With all the focus on keeping Vick in check, Carolina was a mess in other areas.

The defending NFC champions twice turned over the ball to end almost certain scoring drives.

Muhsin Muhammad fumbled on the opening drive at the Atlanta 21, and the Falcons converted it into Dunn's touchdown run.

Then Jake Delhomme was intercepted at the Falcons 3 to end another Carolina opportunity on the Panthers' first possession of the second half.

But the most costly error came with 12 minutes left in the game and Atlanta clinging to a 13-10 lead. Delhomme threw into heavy coverage and Mathis grabbed the ball and marched untouched into the end zone for the game-sealing score.

It was reminiscent of last November, when Mathis intercepted Delhomme on the first play of overtime and returned it 32 yards for a 20-14 Atlanta victory.

T.J. Duckett added a 4-yard touchdown run with 4:13 to play to make the win a blowout.

This meeting was fairly nasty, with 21 total penalties, six personal fouls called and one near brawl.

Carolina linebacker Brandon Short was called for unnecessary roughness against Vick, and the two exchanged head-butts afterward. It led to pushing and shoving between nearly every player on the field before the officials took control.

Vick completed his first seven passes. Things weren't so easy from there, and he went just 3-of-11 from there, leaving him 10-of-18 for the game.

Atlanta's defense, the NFL's worst last season, put together its fourth consecutive impressive outing.

The Falcons held Carolina to 360 yards total offense, forced three turnovers, harassed Delhomme the entire day and hardly gave DeShaun Foster room to run.

Atlanta's most impressive defensive stand came in the waning minutes, when the Panthers moved into scoring range, but fell short on four consecutive shots at the end zone. Muhammad dropped a touchdown catch, and the Falcons broke up the next three passes.

Foster, who ran for 174 yards as Stephen Davis' injury replacement two weeks ago, was held to 51 yards on 19 carries.

Delhomme finished 23-for-38 for 308 yards, and Muhammad had seven catches for 114 yards.