NEW ORLEANS The Carolina Panthers escaped the season without franchise quarterback Cam Newton suffering any serious injuries, but there were some close calls Sunday.
Newton took two big hits that forced him to sit out at least a snap each during the 44-38 victory against New Orleans.
He went out the first time during the third quarter, when he fell on the ball and hurt his ribs. He missed one snap a false start before returning.
During the fourth quarter, defensive lineman Turk McBride rolled into Newtons left leg, causing his ankle to twist awkwardly. Newton rolled on the ground before trainers got to him, then limped off on his own.
I was in shock because the way my ankle bent was irregular, Newton said. I didnt know what was wrong. Thank God that everything is functioning well and I was able to come back in the game. (Derek Anderson) did an excellent job coming and still moving the ball, and (he) put us in position to put the ball in the end zone.
Newton sat out five snaps while Anderson took the Panthers from the New Orleans 37 to the 12. On the next play, DeAngelo Williams ran for a touchdown.
Newton said he would get X-rays on his ribs and ankle Monday in Charlotte.
Next year: After having back-to-back seasons with a top-10 draft pick, Carolina will be No. 14 in Aprils draft.
Carolina is tied with five other teams at 7-9 and by virtue of their strength of schedule will get the 14th pick.
The Panthers also learned their opponents for next season. Along with the home and away games against NFC South opponents Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, Carolina will play games against the AFC East and NFC West teams, as well as the second-place finishers in the NFC East and NFC North.
Buffalo, Miami, San Francisco, Arizona and Minnesota will host the Panthers next year. New England, the New York Jets, Seattle, St. Louis and Sunday nights Dallas-Washington loser will come to Charlotte. The schedule, with dates, will be released later.
Sitting out: The Panthers were without four starters, including the team leader in sacks entering the game.
Defensive end Greg Hardy did not travel with the team as he deals with a death in the family. He missed Thursday and Friday practices, as well.
Were all family. We dont want to see anything bad happen to anybody, fullback Mike Tolbert said. We got a brother right now thats going through some stuff with his family. We wish him the best. At the same time we go out and fight for each other.
Running back Jonathan Stewart missed his fifth consecutive game with a high ankle sprain. Linebacker James Anderson did not play because of a back injury, and starting center Geoff Hangartner sat out with a sprained foot.
Punt returner Joe Adams was inactive with an ankle injury. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen also was inactive.
• Just like Bank of America Stadium was last week for the Belk Bowl, the Superdome was being prepped for the Sugar Bowl right after the game. Workers spent several hours taking the SAINTS out of the end zone.
• Panthers owner and founder Jerry Richardson and team President Danny Morrison were talking with former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme on the sideline before the game.
• There was applause from the crowd when Newton went down with an ankle injury during the third quarter. To their credit, fans also cheered when he got up and walked off the field.
By the numbers
203 Rushing yards, of a franchise-record 210 total, DeAngelo Williams had during the final three quarters.
12.5 Sacks during 2012 by Charles Johnson, best on the team.
5,177 Passing yards by Drew Brees this season, making him the first NFL quarterback to pass for 5,000 yards in three seasons.
2 Times the Panthers have won in Newtons two seasons when he throws an interception, including Sunday.
• My statistics right now I think my Madden rating is going to go up because my production is high. Fullback Mike Tolbert.
• He definitely has the locker room behind him. Tight end Ben Hartsock on Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
• One of the things I pride myself on is watching film and knowing whats going on out there. By watching (Brees) over and over again I knew it was coming. Safety Charles Godfrey on his interception.