CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s ease for the Carolina Panthers to focus on the results these days after another key victory with a dicey ending.
“It felt great how we played because we stopped them at the end,” defensive end Kony Ealy said. “But we have to learn how to put our foot down on their throats.”
Cam Newton threw three touchdown passes and ran for another as the Panthers flexed against one of the NFC’s established powers, remaining unbeaten by holding off the Green Bay Packers 37-29 on Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium.
This one wasn’t secured until linebacker Thomas Davis made an interception on a fourth-down play near the goal line after the Packers threatened to wipe out a 23-point hole in the last eight minutes.
Davis intercepted Aaron Rodgers’ fourth-and-goal pass from the 4-yard line on the first play after the two-minute warning. Wide receiver Randall Cobb was open on the play, but Rodgers missed him under heavy duress from defensive tackle Kawann Short. Rodgers had four touchdown passes and was sacked five times.
“I just made the catch, but it was fourth down anyway,” Davis said. “I cannot stress enough how much (Short) meant going in there and making it happen.”
The Panthers (8-0) continued the best start in franchise history with their second victory in less than a week after recovering in overtime to defeat the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night.
“We let another team come back on us,” Davis said. “That was because of Aaron Rodgers.”
It was another game full of offensive snafus for Green Bay (6-2), which has lost consecutive games for the first time since November 2013 to fall into a first-place NFC North tie with the Vikings (6-2).
“It’s going to hurt a little bit, obviously,” Packers wide receiver Davante Adams said. “That’s not the type of game that we are capable of playing, but we just have to look past it at this point.”
Even at the regular season’s midway mark, Sunday’s result between NFC divisional leaders could go a long way in determining the home-field assignments for the playoffs in January.
Newton’s numbers were rather ordinary, as he completed 15 of 30 passes for 297 yards with one interception. Rodgers ended up 25 of 48 for 369 yards.
Newton turned in several clutch plays, particularly in the first three quarters.
“He can scramble around and up in the pocket and he can produce a lot of plays,” Packers cornerback Demarious Randall said. “I thought I was in position to make a lot of plays.”
Green Bay showed life in the second half, striking for a 53-yard touchdown on Rodgers’ pass to Cobb just one minute into the second half.
A 13-play, 82-yard drive for the Panthers that consumed more than six minutes resulted in a third-quarter field goal. With a 30-14 lead, it helped stall Green Bay’s momentum.
Newton’s 14-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess sent the Panthers to a 37-14 lead with 9:22 remaining.
“Everything has been good this year,” Funchess said. “I wouldn’t have thought that I would be on an 8-0 team coming straight out of college (at Michigan).”
The Packers answered with a 29-yard screen pass play to running back James Starks at the 7:54 mark.
Rodgers threw 3 yards to tight end Richard Rodgers with 3:43 left and suddenly Carolina’s 23-point lead shrunk to 37-29.
What we learned about the Packers:
1. The Packers might have figured out something from facing a large deficit against Carolina. Once it became apparent that they needed a spark, they seemed to play with more urgency in the fourth quarter. It nearly resulted in a comeback from a 23-point deficit, but if nothing else it could serve as a motivation to get things going earlier. The first month-plus of the season might have gone too smooth for the Packers.
2. The passing attack might remain out of sorts if there’s not better protection for QB Aaron Rodgers. He was hounded regularly and the tone was set in the first half in the game with Carolina because he was sacked three times before the break and five times total. A quarterback pressure resulted in the only interception thrown by Rodgers on a late-game fourth-down pass.
3. The Packers are bound to look for more ways to get the ball in the hands of RB James Starks. He was the team’s top rusher with 39 yards against Carolina, but he was more prominent in the passing attack. He picked up considerable yardage with runs after catches, especially on a few screen plays that worked well and showcased Starks’ abilities in some open space.