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New York (AFP) - The Carolina Panthers overcame a furious late fightback from the New York Giants to preserve their unbeaten record in an ill-tempered NFL battle that left superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr facing possible disciplinary action.
A thrilling contest at the MetLife Stadium was settled 38-35 in the Panthers' favor when Scottish-born kicker Graham Gano stepped up to nail a 43-yard field goal with the last kick of the match.
It followed a remarkable comeback from the Giants, who had drawn level at 35-35 after Beckham's fourth quarter touchdown having earlier trailed 35-7.
Gano's game-winning effort had been made possible by a masterful late drive by Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who finished with another dazzling set of numbers, throwing for five touchdowns and 340 yards as well as picking up 100 rushing yards.
But Newton's latest masterclass in the Panthers' 14-0 season was overshadowed by an ill-disciplined display from Giants superstar Beckham.
The receiver was hit with three personal fouls as his frustration boiled over.
The major incident came during the second half when Beckham launched himself at Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, spearing into the Carolina player's head in an ugly helmet-to-helmet clash.
Beckham was lucky not to have been ejected for the foul and could yet face further disciplinary action over the incident from NFL chiefs.
- Call for action -
Norman later called for action against Beckham.
"I feel like the league should take a look what the guy was doing," Norman said.
"I hope I pulled back the mask on who he really is. Players like that don't need to be in the game."
Beckham meanwhile declined to address the incident which could see him suspended, suggesting he had merely "played hard."
"You're out there competing against one of the best teams in the league, an undefeated team," Beckham said.
"Anyone who has a passion for football is going to go as hard as they can."
New York's defeat saw them slip further out of the post-season picture in the NFC, as they fell to 6-8. The Washington Redskins now lead the NFC Eastern division at 7-7 after defeating Buffalo 35-25 on Sunday.
The Giants defeat also guaranteed a playoff spot for the Green Bay Packers, who beat the Oakland Raiders 30-20.
While the Giants are mathematically alive for a playoff berth, they must now defeat the Minnesota Vikings (9-5) next week to have any chance of saving their season.
- Seahawks, Bengals advance -
The Vikings returned to form with a 38-17 rout of the Chicago Bears.
Elsewhere the post-season picture took further shape with the Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals both guaranteeing their places in the playoffs.
The Seahawks, runners-up in the Super Bowl last season, romped to a 30-13 win over the Cleveland Browns with quarterback Russell Wilson throwing for 249 yards and three touchdowns as Seattle reached the post-season for a fourth consecutive year.
"It's a terrific accomplishment," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "But we're not going to take a whole lot of time to think about that right now."
The Bengals meanwhile shrugged off the injury absence of quarterback Andy Dalton to defeat the San Francisco 49ers 24-14 in Santa Clara to secure their play-off berth.
Dalton's replacement AJ McCarron passed for 192 yards as the Bengals improved to 11-3, one game behind New England (12-2) in the race for the best record in the AFC.
The Patriots edged closer to securing top seeding in the AFC with a 33-16 win over the Tennessee Titans. The Patriots also clinched a first round bye after the Denver Broncos fell 37-24 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tom Brady threw for two touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski and James White to take his tally for the season to 35 touchdown passes for the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Brady finished with 23 of 25 for 267 yards as the Titans were swept aside.
"To be 12-2 is a good record," Brady said. "I know it's not perfect, certainly a lot of things we can do better, but it's good to be 12-2."
Wins against the New York Jets and Miami in their two remaining regular season games would guarantee home-field advantage through the playoffs for the Patriots.