For the Carolina Panthers to beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium, they needed Cam Newton to be Superman.
And on a night when next to nothing worked in the running game for the Carolina Panthers and linebacker Luke Kuechly left the game with his third concussion in three seasons, Newton almost saved the day.
He ran for a touchdown in the first half, nearly had a flying score in the fourth quarter, and had 71 of the Panthers’ 80 rushing yards. And he had the Panthers driving in the final two minutes, reaching the Eagles’ 48.
But when Newton’s fourth-down pass to McCaffrey bounced home, the Eagles survived, 28-23, at Bank of America Stadium.
Newton’s fourth quarter was a mix of good and bad.
After his flying almost-touchdown was reviewed, then placed at the 1, Newton found Christian McCaffrey for the score on the next play, and the Panthers were within five.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz overthrew Alshon Jeffery on third down with six minutes to play, and Eagles punted the ball back to Carolina, which took over at their 23 with 5:49 to play.
The Panthers drove to the Philadelphia 45, where they had fourth and 1. Newton found McCaffrey, covered by a linebacker, for 4 yards and a first down with 3:29 to play.
Then the Panthers seemed to become impatient.
Douglas dropped a potential interception deep down the left side on first down, and Newton couldn’t hook up with Christian McCaffrey deep down the right on second. On third down, Newton was intercepted by Jalen Mills down the middle, with 3:06 to play.
The Eagles couldn’t run out the clock, though, and an incomplete pass to Ertz with 2:13 to play gave the ball back to Carolina and Newton again, at their 31.
But Newton couldn’t capitalize.
Newton was involved in most of what set up the fourth-quarter drama, too.
After Newton’s 16-yard run with 10:34 to play in the second quarter, including a nifty juke of a defensive back, gave the Panthers a 10-3 lead, things got dicey in a hurry.
Twice, interceptions not of Newton’s making gave the Eagles a short field, and Philadelphia took advantage.
First, Newton was intercepted by Rasul Douglas on a pass that ballooned after Newton was hit by Fletcher Cox.
Two plays later, Kuechly was injured. And five plays after that, the Eagles tied it on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Carson Wentz to Zach Ertz in the back of the end zone.
With 14:07 to play in the second half, Newton was intercepted again, this time when Jonathan Stewart mishandled a pass and Patrick Robinson intercepted. Two plays later, Wentz found Ertz for another touchdown, this time from 17 yards out.
After an illegal formation by the Panthers, who lined up over the center on the extra point, the Eagles elected to go for two points, and took an 18-10 lead on LeGarrette Blount’s 1-yard run.
Aided by a 40-yard penalty for pass interference, the Panthers drove to the Eagles’ 2 before stalling, and Graham Gano was good from 20 yards, cutting Philadelphia’s lead to 18-13.
A 48-yard field goal by Jake Elliott stretched the Eagles lead back to eight, 21-13, with 8:02 to play in the third quarter.
Panthers kicker Graham Gano’s answer from 46 yards cut the lead to 21-16.
But Wentz’s third touchdown pass of the game, 24 yards to Nelson Agholor on the first play of the fourth quarter, made it 28-16.
Wentz, sacked three times in the first half but none after halftime, was 16 of 30 for 222 yards and three touchdowns.
Newton finished 28 of 52 for 239 yards, the touchdown to McCaffrey and three interceptions.
The Panthers (4-2) and Eagles (5-1) were tied for the best record in the NFC with the Green Bay Packers entering the game.
Three who mattered
Fletcher Cox: The Eagles defensive end was reportedly a game time decision, and the fact that he was active was huge. His hit on Newton caused an interception, and he was a disruptive force the entire night for a defense that held Carolina to 80- rushing yards.
Julius Peppers: With the Eagles moving on their opening drive, Peppers’ strip sack of Carson Wentz gave him 150 for his career.
Zach Ertz: After Kuechly went out, Ertz twice found holes in the middle of the Panthers defense for touchdowns.
▪ The Panthers played a Sam Mills tribute on the video boards in the first quarter, prompting a loud “Keep Pounding” chant from the crowd.
▪ The Panthers sacked Carson Wentz three times in the first half – all from the left side of the defense. Peppers, James Bradberry and Thomas Davis had one each.
▪ Newton was hit by Fletcher Cox on his second-quarter interception. Cox had been a game time decision for the Eagles but was active – and clearly effective.
▪ Former first-round defensive tackle Vernon Butler was active for the Panthers, with defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. on the inactive list. Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, considered a game time decision, was also active.
▪ Panthers cornerback James Bradberry got his first career sack, taking Wentz down in the first quarter.
▪ Eagles kicker Jack Elliott made a 50-yard field goal with 6:57 to play in the first, giving the Eagles a 3-0 lead.
▪ Gano’s 39-yarder tied the game at 3 with 2:17 to play in the first quarter.
▪ Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker left the game with an ankle injury in the first quarter and didn’t return.
They said it
“You can’t kick field goals and beat good teams. You can’t turn the ball over and not get takeaways and beat good teams.” – Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
“I love Luke Kuechly the person. I love Luke Kuechly the player. We’re definitely concerned about his health.” – Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
“All I know is Luke is in the protocol.” – Rivera, on Kuechly’s concussion.