PHILADELPHIA In a game Carolina certainly needed and not much of America really wanted the Panthers edged the Philadelphia Eagles, 30-22, on the road with a strong final quarter on Monday Night Football.
At closing time for almost all of this season, the Panthers never have been able to shut and latch the door. Instead, they kept buying the other team another round. And another. And another.
But this time, down 22-21 as the fourth quarter began, the Panthers got their swag back, as Cam Newton put it in a postgame ESPN interview. Carolina scored the games final nine points.
The victory was due more to Newton than anyone else. He accounted for all four Carolina TDs (two rushing, two passing) while throwing for 306 yards, rushing for 52 more and not making a single turnover. It was one his best games as a pro.
So while Americas lawmakers climb the fiscal cliff, the Panthers (3-8) ended one of their own weekly cliffhangers with a rare jolt of happiness. They were certainly helped by the Eagles (3-8) a sloppy team that has now lost seven straight games and are ravaged by injury but the Panthers still won a game they could have lost.
In a contest Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith had accurately labeled the battle of the bads, the Eagles were a bit worse. The win occurred on a cold, clear night under a nearly full moon and in front of the national audience that Monday Night Football guarantees.
The Panthers looked like they were going to rout the Eagles early, scoring on their first two drives on touchdown passes from Newton to two receivers who were running down the middle of the field that was as open as a 24-hour gas station. Those passes 24 yards to Gary Barnidge and 43 yards to Brandon LaFell brought the boos cascading down from the Eagle fans and put Carolina up 14-3.
Two broken coverages, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said. That clearly falls on my shoulders.
But Philadelphia clawed back, scoring the games next 12 points to lead 15-14 at halftime behind rookie running back Bryce Browns 129 first-half rushing yards. Brown hadnt started a game since high school, but he gashed the Panthers repeatedly in the first half. Rookie quarterback Nick Foles replacing Michael Vick was less effective but never turned the ball over, either.
Down by a point, the Panthers got a huge play from wide receiver Louis Murphy in the third quarter. He was interfered with and still caught a 55-yard pass from Newton that ultimately set up Newtons 1-yard scoring dive.
That put Carolina up 21-15, but Haruki Nakamura then gave up a 51-yard pass interference penalty. That led to Browns 5-yard touchdown run, which pushed the Eagles back in front, 22-21, late in the third quarter.
But Charles Johnson yanked the ball from Browns grasp on the next play Browns second lost fumble of the third quarter. The Panthers got a short fourth-quarter field goal because of that and took a 24-22 lead.
And then the Panthers defense came up big again, stopping a Brown run cold on fourth-and-1 at the Carolina 40. Newton ran for his second touchdown on the ensuing drive to end the scoring with 4 minutes, 40 seconds to go.
Newly-signed kicker Graham Gano missed the extra point and Panthers fans everywhere groaned, for that miss kept it a one-possession game. But Carolinas Sherrod Martin caused a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and then the Panthers closed the game with a flair the team has barely shown this season, running out the final 4:29 with three consecutive first downs.
Did the win save Ron Riveras job? No, not by itself although it probably pushed Reid closer to losing his.
But on a night when most of America would have rather watched two teams who were fighting for the playoffs instead of trying to avoid more embarrassment, the Panthers came out smiling. They finally shut the door at closing time.