ATLANTA Cam Newton had 215 passing yards, two touchdowns and 15 completions on 24 throws.
He rebounded from his worst outing as a pro quarterback against the Giants to have a better passer rating (119.3) than league leader Matt Ryan (107.2).
Still, Newton felt the need to apologize to his team.
In this league, you have to protect the football, Newton said. That was a key focus going into this game. I fumbled. Its a lot of guys thats trusting the ball carrier, whoever it is in any case, and I was the ball carrier on that particular play to get the job done. I failed.
On third-and-2 from the Atlanta 46, Newton fumbled after seemingly getting the first down that would have effectively put the game out of reach.
Falcons linebacker John Abraham stripped Newton of the ball, and it was recovered by Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert at the 45.
Coach Ron Rivera acknowledged the referees made the right call in placing the ball at the 45 after initially ruling it a fourth-and-inches situation.
Theres no finger pointing in this game, especially not on this team, Newton said. So if you expect me to point somebody out, or do this, if anything you can point the finger at me.
Against the New York Giants in Week 3, Newton threw three interceptions and had a career-low 40.3 passer rating. Newton had no interceptions against the Falcons, and he broke his own single-game rushing record with nine carries for 86 yards.
Record-setting Johnson: On his sons first birthday, defensive end Charles Johnson set a Panthers record with 3.5 sacks.
The previous record, three, was held by multiple Panthers, with the most recent being Julius Peppers in 2008. When told that he had a franchise record, Johnson didnt seem to care.
I didnt even know, he said. It dont even matter to me if it aint no win.
Along with his 3.5 sacks, Johnson also had a pass deflection in the first quarter and numerous pressures on Ryan.
We wanted to make sure we put pressure on him, Johnson said. He gets kind of stuttered back there when you hit him. Youve got to hit him all around. We did that today, but we didnt do it enough to get a win.
Adams inactive: On the list of inactives Sunday was kick and punt returner Joe Adams, a rookie drafted by the Panthers in the fourth round who muffed a punt and fumbled a kickoff in his previous game, against the Giants.
All week long, Rivera had been coy about the situation at returner, saying he would evaluate the situation, but he had reiterated that Adams is a dynamic punt returner.
Kealoha Pilares, who opened the season as the kick returner before being replaced by Adams, returned kicks against the Falcons and averaged 27.5 yards per return. The team chose cornerback Captain Munnerlyn over last years punt returner Armanti Edwards to field punts.
(Special teams coach Brian Murphy) challenged me this week to hit the holes hard, Pilares said. I felt like I did my best out there so you just have to go look at the film and see what we can do better. The kickoff return team did a hell of a job.
Munnerlyn hadnt returned punts since 2010, but as the game went along Sunday, he settled back into his old form. He returned three and averaged 7.7 yards per return. He said he was surprised to see Adams benched but advised the rookie to earn his spot back in practice.
I was surprised a little, Munnerlyn said. He made some critical mistakes and all he has to do is learn from them and keep on moving. Just learn from your mistakes and go to practice and work harder.
• About 20 minutes before kickoff, one of the Falcons mascot drove a 4-wheeler onto the field dragging behind him a stuffed Superman a not-so-subtle dig at Cam Newton. He dropped the superhero in front of the crowd before driving off.
• The Falcons wore their 1966 throwback uniforms. Atlanta entered the game 5-1 in the uniforms since 2009.
• Newton, undeterred by the local and national attention his Superman pose has drawn, struck the pose after scoring a rushing touchdown from 4 yards out. Before the pose, he did the A-Town Stomp, a dance that originated in Atlanta, to mock the Falcons crowd.
By the numbers
86 Rushing yards for Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, a career high, on nine carries.
52 Receiving yards for Steve Smith, his lowest total of the season.
4 Touchbacks by Panthers kicker Justin Medlock, who allowed only one Jacquizz Rodgers return.
5 Consecutive losses to the Falcons for Carolina.
0 Fumble recoveries for the Panthers this season
• We were beating the hottest team in the league right now. We won 59 minutes and 55 seconds, but we didnt win the last five. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen
• I was hoping that they would punt it to us, and thats the right thing to do in that situation on a fourth-and-one. They did what most any coach would do. Atlanta coach Mike Smith
• Im surprised. With (Newtons) big body, hes long, and all that good stuff youd think they just quarterback sneak it. Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez
• I came into this game trying to win a football game. If (playing a game back home in Atlanta) is a personal challenge to you, its not a personal challenge to me; its an every week thing. Newton
• They dont call him Matty Ice for nothing. We have faith in our quarterback no matter what the situation. Falcons running back Michael Turner