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Panthers bolster playoff hopes, Patriots escape scare

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NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
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Dec 1, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) drops back to pass during …

(Reuters) - The Carolina Panthers boosted their playoff hopes with an inspired performance from Cam Newton while Nick Foles capped a remarkable first month as a starter by leading the Philadelphia Eagles to victory on Sunday.

The New England Patriots survived a scare from the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts eked out a win over the rival Tennessee Titans as the playoff picture started to take shape with four weeks left in the NFL's regular season.

Newton was forced to remove his black and silver cleats with the Batman insignia painted on the back ahead of Carolina's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, per NFL rules, but that did not seem to slow him.

The 2011 Rookie of the Year set up Carolina's first score with a 56-yard run early in the first quarter of a 27-6 victory over the visiting Buccaneers (3-9) that gave his team a franchise-record eighth straight win.

Newton completed 18-of-29 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns, plus one rushing touchdown for a Carolina (9-3) team that could move into a share of first place in the NFC South if the New Orleans Saints fall to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday.

Foles completed 21-of-34 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals (7-5) that moved the Eagles (7-5) into a share of first place in the NFC East.

The 24-year-old Foles was playing in his first game since being named the NFC's Player of the Month for November, when he tied an NFL record for seven touchdowns in one game.

Tom Brady faced intense pressure from the Texans' (2-10) defense all day but he managed to step up and deliver a 34-31 victory for a visiting Patriots (9-3) team that is closing in on a fifth straight AFC East division title.

During the game, Brady eclipsed 3,000 passing yards on the season for the 11th time in his career, making him just the sixth quarterback in NFL history to do so.

Brady finished the game completing 29-of-41 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns but it was a 53-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski with about three minutes to play that put New England ahead for good in a back and forth game.

The Colts (8-4) got a four-yard touchdown run from Donald Brown with two minutes to play that sealed a 22-14 win over a Titans (5-7) team that is seeking its first playoff berth in five years.

Brandon Weeden's return as starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns (4-8) got off to a losing start as his team fell 32-28 at home to a suddenly feisty Jacksonville Jaguars (3-9) squad.

With Jacksonville trailing by three, quarterback Chad Henne led his team on an 80-yard drive that culminated in a 20-yard touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts with 45 seconds to play.

The Jaguars, who lost the first eight games of the 2013 season, have now won three of their last four games.

The Minnesota Viking turned back the Chicago Bears 23-20 in overtime with a field goal after each team had missed earlier field goal attempts in the extra session.

Ryan Tannehill completed 28-of-43 passes for 331 yards and two touchdowns as the Miami Dolphins (6-6) kept their playoff hopes alive with a 23-3 rout over the host New York Jets (5-7).

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto)

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