By Charles Odum
ATLANTA — Chris Weinke credited his first win in five years to Carolina’s renewed emphasis on the running game, while another Atlanta loss left Michael Vick wondering about his team’s direction.
No matter the perspective of the quarterbacks, Carolina’s 10-3 win over the Falcons on Sunday left each team one game under .500 — and still in the jumbled NFC wild-card playoff hunt — with one week left in the season.
After the Falcons (7-8) suffered their fourth-straight home loss, Vick seemed to question decisions by coach Jim Mora and his staff.
“We’ve got first-round guys, we’ve got guys that have been in the Pro Bowl offensively and defensively, guys who’ve been in the scheme for two to three years,” Vick said. “You know, the talent level is there, and I just think it’s a question that needs to be answered. I don’t know what it is, but we’re too good to be losing these games, and we should be ranked among the elite in this league this year and we’re not.
“You can’t come out there and just try to wing it. I’m not saying that we did that, but either we’ve got to come out and throw the football or come out and try to establish the run.”
There was no question about the Panthers’ offensive mission.
Carolina (7-8) outgained the Falcons’ league-leading rushing attack 183-83.
Weinke completed only 4 of 7 passes for 32 yards, but that included a 1-yard scoring pass to Jeff King for the game’s only touchdown as the run-oriented Panthers snapped a four-game losing streak and Weinke snapped a personal 17-game losing streak as a starter.
Weinke’s only previous win came in his first game as a starter for Carolina on Sept. 9, 2001 at Minnesota.
Weinke directed a devastating first-half touchdown drive that lasted 10 minutes, 36 seconds. He called 12 straight running plays before throwing his first pass in the 16-play drive.
“That was our emphasis all week,” Weinke said.
The Panthers had the ball for 41 minutes, 47 seconds compared to 18 minutes, 13 seconds for the Falcons.
That sort of domination “is what happens when you run the ball,” Weinke said.
DeShaun Foster rushed for 102 yards on 28 carries. DeAngelo Williams added 21 carries for 82 yards rushing, with much of his production coming on keepers while lining up at quarterback in a shotgun formation.
“We put that little segment in this week,” Weinke said.
The Falcons were slow to adjust.
“A couple of times they had us outnumbered to the side of the run,” Mora said. “We didn’t adjust to it well enough early.”
The Panthers had first-down run for 9, 6, 6, 9, 5, 4 and 1 yards as they ran down the clock in their long touchdown drive. Weinke’s scoring pass to King, a rookie third-string tight end, came on the first play of the second period.
King’s first career reception came two plays after Williams ran 3 yards to the 1 on his first play at quarterback.
“It wasn’t just me back there,” Williams said. “The offensive line did a great job of blocking. We did a good job today running all the plays.”
The long drive seemed to leave the Falcons’ offense groggy after their long wait on the sideline.
“We kind of had a rhythm going, and to be over there for that length of time wasn’t good for our offense,” Vick said.
John Kasay kicked a 42-yard field goal for Carolina in the second quarter, giving the veteran 27 straight successful kicks under 50 yards and giving Carolina a 10-3 lead.
The Falcons’ final threat stalled at the Carolina 35 with 1:19 left when Vick’s fourth-down pass was tipped at the line by former Falcons linebacker Chris Draft.
Atlanta’s only highlights were personal milestones for Vick and kicker Morten Andersen.
On his first carry, Vick rushed for 17 yards to become the first NFL quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Andersen gave the Falcons a 3-0 lead with a 40-yard field goal in the first quarter that moved him past Gary Anderson for the all-time lead. Andersen now has 539 career field goals.
Vick had four carries for 32 yards and completed 9 of 20 passes for 109 yards with two interceptions. Warrick Dunn gained 29 yards on nine carries.
Allen Rossum’s potential game-tying 80-yard punt return midway through the fourth quarter was nullified by a clipping penalty against Falcons receiver Michael Jenkins.
The Panthers won despite playing without quarterback Jake Delhomme (thumb), who was out for the third straight week.