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Panthers-Patriots: What we learned

The SportsXchange

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With pressure mounting on the Carolina Panthers' offense, quarterback Cam Newton came through Monday night.

Needing a late-game scoring drive, the Panthers rode Newton's footwork and arm to another memorable outcome.

Newton threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. with 59 seconds left, and the Panthers defeated the New England Patriots 24-20 at Bank of America Stadium.

"I just try to go out and make the plays, and Cam delivered it," Ginn said.

The Panthers (7-3) extended their winning streak to six games, with the game-deciding drive covering 83 yards and 13 plays.

"The offense kept fighting to put points on the board," Newton said. "The way it happened was just spectacular."

It was one of the most anticipated regular-season games in Panthers history. Carolina needed to win to pull within a game of the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints.

"I think we made a statement that as a team we're for real," Carolina safety Mike Mitchell said.

New England (7-3) saw its two-game winning streak snapped despite a stellar outing by quarterback Tom Brady.

Carolina's final drive included two third-down rushing pickups by Newton and a third-down defensive holding penalty for another first down. Ginn's scoring catch was his only reception of the game, though it was Newton's third touchdown toss.

"Our quarterback driving down the field like that and leaving only 59 seconds left," Mitchell said, marveling about Newton.

The Panthers had three possessions of 12 or more plays, but they went three-and-out on their only other fourth-quarter possession prior to the winning drive.

"We scored when we needed to score," wide receiver Brandon LaFell said. "The key to that last drive was to keep pounding."

Newton completed 19 of 28 passes for 209 yards.

Brady connected on 29 of 40 passes for 296 yards. He completed his first 11 second-half passes, but his next four were incomplete before a fourth-down completion kept hope alive in the final minute.

The Patriots reached the Carolina 18-yard line for the game's final snap, but Panthers safety Robert Lester made an interception in the end zone. A flag was thrown -- apparently for pass interference based on coverage in the end zone on tight end Rob Gronkowski -- but the infraction was waved off.

"It wasn't completed," Gronkowski said of the last pass. "It is how it is now. They took the call back. It's not where the game was won or loss. ... When they threw the flag, that's what I thought it was going to be (interference). I've got to re-watch it."

What the Panthers said

"I've seen this story before. I've read this book before. I just thought we left them too much time." -- Quarterback Cam Newton, after the Panthers scored the go-ahead touchdown with 59 seconds to go, giving New England quarterback Tom Brady a chance to respond.

What the Patriots said

"We had a lot of opportunities to get down there. We moved the ball pretty well. We just couldn't punch it in and get enough points." -- Quarterback Tom Brady, on the disappointment of twice settling for field goals.

What we learned about the Panthers

1. Carolina's ball-control offense is critical, even though New England ended up with a 1:32 edge in time off possession. The Panthers, who didn't commit a turnover, put together four possessions that lasted more than five minutes. "We did control the clock," said Panthers coach Ron Rivera, whose team leads the NFL in time of possession. "We did keep the ball out of (Tom) Brady's hands the best we could."

2. A defense that is gaining league-wide respect received another set of passing grades. There are suggestions that the Panthers might have the best defense in the league, and a stout performance against the Patriots on the Monday night stage only enhanced that. The Panthers allowed a total of 39 points their past three games. "I think our defense is extremely good," quarterback Cam Newton said. "We have to continue to keep going. It's not time for us to pat ourselves on the back right now."

What we learned about the Patriots

1. The Patriots are still in the thick of things in the AFC East, but their task becomes tougher: They next face the Denver Broncos with a shortened week of preparation. "Hold our heads," wide receiver Aaron Dobson said of the postgame message after the loss at Carolina. "We can't dwell on it for too long. We've got a quick week." New England could take some solace in the fact that running back Shane Vereen, in his first game back from a wrist injury, made a team-high eight receptions for 65 yards. Vereen said he came out of the game feeling fine physically.

2. There needs to be more than near-flawless stretches from quarterback Tom Brady in order for the Patriots to win. At one point, Brady completed 25 of 29 passes without an interception, yet the Patriots trailed the Panthers. Eight Patriots caught passes Monday, so Brady is finding a variety of receivers. "The game came down right to the wire on both ends of the field," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We just couldn't make enough plays."
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