1. Greg Hardy’s sack
The score: Scoreless, third and 4 at the Carolina 40, 8:25 to play in the first.
The situation: After forcing a three-and-out by the Panthers, the Patriots had driven into Panthers territory and had a manageable distance to continue the drive.
The play: Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy came untouched off right end to sack Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for a loss of 4 yards.
Why it mattered: After a punt pinned the Panthers at their 10, Carolina got a 42-yard completion to Steve Smith and a personal foul on Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib as part of a 90-yard touchdown drive, capped by Cam Newton’s 9-yard pass to Brandon LaFell. The Panthers took an early 7-0 lead.
2. Ridley’s fumble
The score: Panthers leading 7-0, 11:11 left second quarter, second and 11 at the Carolina 13.
The situation: Twice the Panthers stopped the Patriots, only to have penalties give New England first downs. The drive advanced to the Carolina 12 before a loss of one on first down.
The play: Stevan Ridley fumbled on a hit by Kawaan Short, and the Panthers’ Mario Addison recovered, stopping the drive.
Why it mattered: A long run by Newton and a holding penalty on Talib highlighted the Panthers’ drive, which stalled at the 20 before Graham Gano made a 43-yard field goal for a 10-0 Carolina lead.
3. Newton’s scramble
The score: Tied at 10, 7:37 to play in the third quarter.
The situation: On third and 7 at the Carolina 37, the Panthers were in danger of giving the ball back to Brady and the Patriots.
The play: Newton made a miraculous escape from the Patriots rush, avoiding six New England defenders, and ran for 14 yards to the New England 49.
Why it mattered: A 15-yard touchdown pass from Newton to tight end Greg Olsen completed the Panthers’ second 80-yard plus touchdown drive of the game and gave Carolina the lead, 17-10.
4. Nortman’s short punt
The score: Tied at 17, 11:12 left in the fourth quarter.
The situation: Fourth down and 15 at the Carolina 15.
The play: After a three-and-out by the Panthers, Brad Nortman’s 37-yard punt was returned 13 yards by New England’s Danny Amendola, giving New England a first down at the Carolina 39.
Why it mattered: The Patriots drove 31 yards in nine plays to the Panthers’ 8 before the drive stalled, and Gostkowski’s 26-yard field goal gave the Patriots their first lead, 20-17.
5. McCourty’s hold
The score: Patriots leading 20-17, 2:06 left in the fourth quarter.
The situation: Panthers facing third and 7 at the New England 36
The play: New England safety Devin McCourty held the Panthers’ Olsen, keeping the Carolina drive alive.
Why it mattered: Five plays later, Newton found Ted Ginn Jr. for a 25-yard touchdown with 59 seconds left that proved to be the game winner.
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