The Carolina Panthers seemed well on their way to continuing their undefeated streak, but they had to make it interesting.
Up by 23 points in the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers, the Panthers had a late-game scare for a second consecutive week. But this time Carolina didn’t need overtime to get the win, instead sinking the Packers 37-29 to take firm control of the No. 1 seed in the early NFC playoff picture.
The victory came six days after the Panthers beat Indianapolis 29-26 in overtime on Monday night.
The 8-0 start is the Panthers’ best in the 21-year history of the franchise.
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With his team down eight, reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers threw an interception on fourth down near the goal line with 1:54 left in the game. Thomas Davis made the leaping interception to seal the game.
Quarterback Cam Newton had an up-and-down day, connecting on seven pass plays of 20 or more yards but throwing a key interception in the final 3 minutes, giving Green Bay (6-2) life. He finished 15 of 30 for 297 yards, three touchdowns and that interception.
“He did some really good things and had some good moments,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “I promise you there’s only one throw he’d like to have back.”
Three who mattered
Kony Ealy: Ealy got a strip sack for the second consecutive game after getting to Aaron Rodgers in the fourth quarter. Later in the quarter he brought pressure and hit Rodgers as he threw.
Kurt Coleman: The veteran safety always seemed to be right on when Sean McDermott dialed up a blitz. He nearly had an interception in his second straight game.
Devin Funchess: In a season in which he has dropped almost as many passes as he caught, the rookie receiver had a catch of 52 yards and a touchdown of 14 yards for his first professional score. He finished with three catches on four targets for 71 yards.
▪ The Packers nearly put up a score at the end of the first half on a long, cross-field throw from Rodgers to Davante Adams. The pass was caught at the 9 with 1 second left, but the Packers had no timeouts remaining.
▪ Tight end Greg Olsen did a good job of selling defensive pass interference in the fourth quarter. Olsen probably would have gotten the call without the acting, but he threw that in there for good measure to get the Panthers inside the Packers’ 20.
▪ Former Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers got plenty of boos from the crowd when his name was announced. At one point early in the game, Peppers put his hand to his ear as he listened for the boos.
▪ Further embracing his heel role, Peppers denied giving Cam Newton his touchdown ball in the second quarter. He threw it to a ballboy, who gave it right back to Newton to give it away to a fan.
▪ The Panthers benefited from a slew of injuries to Green Bay’s secondary. The Packers went into the game down Sam Shields and Quinten Rollins. Cornerback Casey Hayward went down in the second half with a concussion, too.
▪ The game was one of the hardest-fought for Carolina, too. Multiple players went down at various times. Luke Kuechly had to be helped off the field twice with a bad ankle, and Josh Norman seemed to injure his right shoulder on a play, although Rivera later said he had the breath knocked out of him.
▪ The Panthers scored 24 points in the second quarter for only the second time in franchise history. The first time came in their 31-29 win against San Francisco in 1999.
▪ Despite saying all week he was at least a week away from playing, defensive end Mario Addison was active for the game and played mostly on third downs.
▪ Kawann Short registered his sixth sack of the season when he took down Rodgers on third down late in the second quarter. Short blew past running back James Starks, who missed his assignment.
▪ Rodgers finished 25 of 48 for 369 yards, four touchdowns and the critical interception by Davis.
▪ Kurt Coleman’s sack on Rodgers was the first of Coleman’s six-year career.
They said it
“The ebbs and flows are most definitely getting to all of us. I know they are getting to me. We have to learn to finish better. We can’t make it this exciting.” – Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
“We were ready to go the whole time, we just didn’t make the plays early on, so we dug ourselves a hole that was hard to get out of.” – Green Bay receiver Davante Adams.
“None of us is complacent. We have a lot to clean up. But we’re 8-0.” – Panthers safety Kurt Coleman
“No I didn’t but hey, we didn’t get a lot of calls that were iffy.” – Panthers receiver Ted Ginn Jr. on if he thought Green Bay’s Damarious Randall stepped out of bounds on his interception.