Cam Newton was determined to protect the Carolina Panthers’ house on Sunday at all costs.
That meant the fifth-year quarterback tearing down a large Green Bay Packers banner before the game that was hanging over the inside wall of the stadium – and later taking down the Packers by throwing for three touchdowns and running for another in a 37-29 win.
Newton threw for 297 yards as the Panthers (8-0) took an important step toward securing home-field advantage throughout the play-offs. Every other NFC team has at least two losses, including the Packers (6-2).
Carolina have now won 12 straight regular-season games, including seven straight at home.
“There was a Green Bay banner in Bank of America Stadium – and that just doesn’t match,” Newton said. “We take pride in having an edge and playing in Bank of America Stadium and playing in front of the Carolinas every week, and it’s something that I feel it was my due diligence to protect.”
Carolina led by 23 points in the fourth quarter before Aaron Rodgers rallied Green Bay and nearly gave the Packers a chance to extend the game into overtime.
Rodgers threw for 369 yards and four TDs, but couldn’t take advantage of one of Newton’s few mistakes: an interception with 3:38 left in the game that gave the Packers the ball at the Carolina 22. Down by 8, Rodgers’ 4th-and-goal pass from the Carolina 4 was intercepted by linebacker Thomas Davis.
It capped a frustrating day for the Packers. Rodgers was so annoyed he threw his tablet on the ground on the sideline after watching the replay.
“We had an opportunity for a pitch-and-catch touchdown, and I got scared by something,” Rodgers said. “I can’t explain. It was a mistake for me, and something I’ll think about on the ride home. I don’t know who was in my face; all I know is I had Randall (Cobb) wide open for a touchdown.”
Earlier in the game, Julius Peppers refused to give the ball back to Newton after the quarterback scored a touchdown, instead electing to toss the ball down the field in the opposite direction. Newton retrieved the ball and gave it to a fan.
And, down by 37-14 in the fourth quarter, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix began jawing at Peppers, who was seated on the bench. Peppers stood up and talked back before BJ Raji stepped in, shoving Clinton-Dix backward.
“It doesn’t concern me,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s football. Things happen on the sidelines. It’s a product of us not playing to our standard. Sometimes things like that happen. I have no concerns.”
It was the second straight game the Panthers nearly surrendered a commanding fourth quarter lead. Carolina lost a 17-point lead on Monday night to Indianapolis before rallying to win 29-26 in overtime.
“We make it tough, I don’t know why,” Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said. “It’s almost like we like torturing ourselves.”
Coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers can’t put themselves in that position.
“When you have somebody down you have to make plays and put them away,” Rivera said.
Carolina outscored Green Bay 24-0 in the second period to open a 27-7 half-time lead behind three Newton scores.
The dual-threat quarterback was dominant in the first half, throwing for 209 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 37 yards and another score.
The Packers opened the game in man coverage and Newton made them pay right away by finding huge holes to run through for big gains.
Carolina also had a bevy of big plays in the passing game.
Carolina’s first score was set up by a 59-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery. Newton gave Carolina the lead for good at 10-7 with a 52-yard pass to rookie Devin Funchess leading to a 7-yard TD pass to Greg Olsen. Later, he came back with a 39-yard touchdown strike to Philly Brown with 41 seconds left in the half.
He also scored his 38th career TD rushing in the first half, moving into a tie for second place all-time among quarterbacks with Kordell Stewart. Only Steve Young (43) has more.
Newton repeatedly went after rookie cornerback Damarious Randall, and the Panthers, despite playing without top defensive end Charles Johnson, kept pressure on Rodgers all day.
Still, Rodgers wouldn’t give in.
His 29-yard TD pass to James Starks and a 2-point conversion toss to Davante Adams cut the lead to 15. Then, on 4th-and-14, Rodgers rolled to his left evading three pass rushers and fired over the middle on the run to James Jones for a 36-yard completion to keep Green Bay’s hopes alive. Rodgers completed the drive with 3-yard pass to Richard Rodgers, his second touchdown of the game, to cut the lead to 37-29.
“He is a first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback who doesn’t quit,” Rivera said.
Elsewhere in the NFL
Pittsburgh Steelers 38, Oakland Raiders 35
Chris Boswell hit an 18-yard field goal with 2 seconds left to lift the Steelers after Ben Roethlisberger left with a potentially serious left foot injury.
The Steelers (5-4) survived after Roethlisberger exited midway through the fourth quarter after getting sacked by Aldon Smith. Replacement Landry Jones found Antonio Brown for a 57-yard reception on Pittsburgh’s final drive to set up Boswell’s winning kick.
Brown finished with 17 catches for 284 yards, both franchise records. DeAngelo Williams ran for 170 yards and two scores as the Steelers rolled up 597 yards of total offense.
Derek Carr threw for 301 yards with four touchdowns and an interception for the Raiders (4-4). Carr found Michael Crabtree for a 38-yard score to tie it with 1:15 to go, more than enough time for the Steelers to get Boswell in range for a chip shot even without their franchise quarterback. Oakland running back Latavius Murray ran for 96 yards but left in the third quarter with a potential concussion.
Roethlisberger passed for 334 yards with two touchdowns and a pick as he moved past Hall of Famers Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana and into 13th on the NFL list for career yards passing. When he’ll get to add to that total is uncertain after he was taken from Heinz Field for further evaluation after Smith fell on his left foot.
Indianapolis Colts 27, Denver Broncos 24
Andrew Luck threw two touchdown passes and Adam Vinatieri made a tie-breaking 55-yard field goal with 6:13 to play. The Colts (4-5) ended a three-game losing streak and stayed atop the AFC South by ruining Peyton Manning’s return to Indy again. It was their first win outside the division.
Denver (7-1) was the only unbeaten team to lose this weekend.
Luck was brilliant, going 21-of-36 for 252 yards. He broke a 17-17 tie with a TD pass early in the fourth quarter, then helped snap a 24-24 tie by setting up Vinatieri for the field goal on the next drive. Indy ran out the final 5:57.
Manning was 21 of 36 for 281 yards with two TDs and two interceptions. He couldn’t break Brett Favre’s record for regular-season wins (186) by a quarterback and fell 3 yards short of becoming the NFL’s career passing leader.
New England Patriots 27, Washington Redskins 10
Julian Edelman and LeGarrette Blount scored touchdowns before the Redskins ran their second play.
Tom Brady completed 26-of-39 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns, including an 8-yarder to Edelman on the opening drive. New England (8-0) then pulled off a surprise onside kick, but that drive stalled when Edelman fumbled.
Washington could manage only a single play: Kirk Cousins’s pass that bounced off Pierre Garcon and was intercepted by Logan Ryan. New England then marched downfield to make it 14-0 on Blount’s 5-yard score.
Washington (3-5) managed 15 total yards in the first quarter, and the Patriots continued to pull away. New England have scored in 31 straight quarters – every one this season except the first quarter of the first game.
Blount carried 29 times for 129 yards for New England, who won easily even though Brady threw his second interception of the season. The Patriots also lost a fumble at home for the first time since 2013.
Tennessee Titans 34, New Orleans Saints 28 (overtime)
Tennessee rookie Marcus Mariota came back from his recent injury to pass for 371 yards and four touchdowns, including a 5-yard scoring pass to Anthony Fasano in overtime, and the Titans snapped a six-game skid.
The Saints (4-5), who had won three in a row, led 21-10 but could not put away the Titans (2-6), who turned in a feisty performance in their first game since coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired and replaced by Mike Mularkey.
Sunday also marked Mariota’s return from a knee sprain that sidelined him for two games. He completed 28-of-39 passes.
Drew Brees was 28-of-39 for 389 yards and three touchdowns. He also scored on a short keeper.
Both teams missed go-ahead field goal attempts in the last two minutes of regulation. First, Tennessee’s Ryan Succop hit the cross bar on a 55-yard try that would have been a career long. Then, in the final minute, Kai Forbath, who a week earlier had kicked a winning field goal, had his 46-yard attempt partially blocked by Coty Sensabaugh.
Minnesota Vikings 21, St Louis Rams 18 (overtime)
Adrian Peterson rushed for 125 yards on 29 carries, helping set up Blair Walsh’s 40-yard field goal in overtime after Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater left with a concussion early in the fourth quarter.
In a predictably grind-it-out game between similarly constructed teams, the Vikings (6-2) ended Todd Gurley’s streak of games with 125-plus yards rushing at four. Gurley gained 89 yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts for the Rams (4-4), who received the overtime kickoff but went three-and-out.
Marcus Sherels tiptoed along the sideline for a 26-yard return of Johnny Hekker’s 63-yard punt, and Peterson ran the ball well into Walsh’s range to give the Vikings their seventh straight win at home.
Greg Zuerlein made four field goals for the Rams, including a 53-yarder with 17 seconds left in regulation to make up for the 48-yarder that went wide right a few minutes before. Zuerlein had a career-long 61-yarder among three field goals in the second quarter, the first from 60-plus yards in the NFL in nearly two years. Zuerlein became the second kicker in NFL history with multiple field goals from 60-plus yards, joining Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski.
Buffalo Bills 33, Miami Dolphins 17
Sammy Watkins had a career-best performance in leading the Bills. He made eight catches for 168 yards and a 44-yard touchdown that broke open the game late in the third quarter. Rookie running back Karlos Williams scored twice and LeSean McCoy also scored on a 48-yard run.
Buffalo (4-4), coming out of their bye week, won for the first time in four home games.
The Dolphins (3-5) continued to regress. Coming off a 36-7 loss to New England, Miami have lost two straight since winning their first two games when interim coach Dan Campbell took over after Joe Philbin was fired.
The Dolphins also are 0-4 against AFC East rivals. Lamar Miller scored twice on 1-yard runs.
McCoy had 112 yards rushing before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with an injury to his right shoulder.
San Francisco 49ers 17, Atlanta Falcons 16
Blaine Gabbert threw a pair of second-quarter touchdown passes to Garrett Celek for the undermanned 49ers.
The 49ers (3-6) head into the bye on a winning note after a week of change.
Making his first start in more than two years, Gabbert didn’t take a sack behind an offensive line that has faced heavy scrutiny all year. Celek made TD catches of 1 and 11 yards to give him three on the year and San Francisco’s stout defence flustered Matt Ryan despite the patchwork use of backups because of a rash of injuries.
Gabbert threw an interception midway through the fourth quarter, giving Atlanta (6-3) another chance with 7:14 to go. After an incompletion, Ryan hit six straight throws, but eventually missed Julio Jones in the end zone and Atlanta kicked a field goal and fell just short.
New York Jets 28, Jacksonville Jaguars 23
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two touchdown passes while playing with a torn ligament in his left thumb, Chris Ivory ran for two scores and the Jets took advantage of late mistakes by the Jaguars.
Brandon Marshall had a 20-yard TD catch after the Jets (5-3) recovered a muffed punt late in the fourth quarter, helping New York end a two-game skid in a messy performance by both sides.
Blake Bortles threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns, including a 20-yard pass to Bryan Walters with 2:16 left to keep Jacksonville in it. But Marcus Williams came up with his second interception of the game on Jacksonville’s next possession as the Jets sent the Jaguars (2-6) to their 13th straight road loss.
New York Giants 32, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 18
Eli Manning threw for two touchdowns, helping the first-place New York Giants rebound from last week’s debacle at New Orleans.
Josh Brown booted four field goals for the Giants (5-4), including fourth-quarter kicks of 53 and 44 yards that gave New York some breathing room after the Bucs (3-5) pulled within two points.
Manning threw first-half TD passes of 8 yards to Reuben Randle and 4 yards to Shane Vereen. The Giants’ defence, bolstered by the return of Jason Pierre-Paul, did its part by keeping the Jameis Winston-led Tampa Bay offence out of the end zone until the rookie scrambled 10 yards for a TD that made it 20-18 with 9:25 remaining.
Winston’s 2-point conversion pass to the rear of the end zone was caught out of bounds. The Giants sealed the victory with Brown’s third and fourth field goals, plus Trevin Wade’s fumble recovery TD on the game’s final play.
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