June 23, 2018
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Panthers pass Patriots in final minute, 24-20

By The Sports Xchange, Special to the BDN

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.”

Mitchell said, “I thought the referees did a fantastic job picking that flag up.”

The Patriots moved the ball on most of their seven possessions in the game. They picked up 390 yards, but they needed 18 more.

“We had confidence we could go down there and do it,” Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson said. “We did it before.”

Stephen Gostkowski’s 26-yard field goal with 6:32 remaining put the Patriots ahead 20-17, giving them the lead for the first time in the game.

Newton threw a 15-yard touchdown strike to tight end Greg Olsen as the Panthers took a 17-10 lead with 2:10 left in the third quarter. The 13-play drive, which consumed 8:21, was Carolina’s only possession of the quarter.

The Patriots responded with a nine-play, 80-yard drive, and running back Stevan Ridley scored from 1 yard out with 12:33 remaining in the game. Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins set up the touchdown, taking the ball to the 1-yard line on a 37-yard reception.

Earlier in the second half, the Patriots tied the game at 10 with Brady’s 9-yard pass to Gronkowski on the opening drive of the third quarter. It was the first touchdown allowed by Carolina in eight quarters, dating to shortly before halftime on Nov. 3 against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Panthers led 10-3 at halftime despite New England advancing into Carolina territory on all three of its first-half possessions.

Carolina struck first on Newton’s 9-yard, third-down pass to LaFell. The nine-play, 90-yard drive came on the Panthers’ second possession, finishing at the 2:44 mark of the first quarter.

New England’s first drive fizzled when defensive end Greg Hardy sacked Brady.

On their next drive, the Patriots appeared to stall on fourth-and-2 from the Carolina 35. However, an illegal-use-of-hands penalty on Carolina cornerback Melvin White prolonged the march, which advanced to the 12-yard line before Ridley fumbled the ball away.

With a 12-play drive, the Panthers increased their lead on Graham Gano’s 43-yard field goal with 5:02 remaining in the second quarter.

New England’s only first-half scoring came on Gostkowski’s 42-yard field goal 1:09 before halftime.

NOTES: The teams met 10 seasons ago in the Super Bowl, with New England winning on a late field goal. … The teams split four all-time meetings prior to Monday. … The Panthers entered the game leading the league in time of possession, but New England wound up with a slight edge in that category Monday (30:46-29:14). …. The Patriots activated RB Shane Vereen from injured reserve. He finished with eight receptions for 65 yards and one carry for 7 yards. … Panthers LB Dan Connor was in uniform after he signed as a free agent last week. He is a former Carolina player who made stops with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants before returning … The Panthers placed CB James Dockery on injured reserve. … New England’s next game is home Sunday night vs. the Denver Broncos. … The Panthers play the Dolphins on Sunday at Miami.


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