NSN Moment of the Week: Another Look  

GMC  

Cam Newton shows Carolina Panthers are legit contenders

  • By Jim Reineking NFL.com
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This is the backstory to one of the great moments of Week 11, the eventful evening at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, where the hometown Panthers pulled out a thrilling win on "Monday Night Football" over the New England Patriots. The Panthers' sixth consecutive win, as well as the Chicago Bears' overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens following a lengthy weather delay and the Pittsburgh Steelers' rally following a 27-point second quarter from the Detroit Lions, are nominees for the GMC Never Say Never Moment of the Week. Cast your vote for the GMC Never Say Never Moments of Week 11.

The Panthers faced the AFC East-leading Patriots in a statement showdown before a national television audience. Taking away from what was a spectacular effort from quarterback Cam Newton was the confusing and controversial ending to the game -- a non-call after a penalty flag was thrown on the final play. Before that moment of chaos, Newton engineered two second-half touchdown drives -- including a 13-play, 83-yard march for the decisive score -- to deliver a crucial win for Carolina.

Here are the key moments before the moment:

Panthers strike first

The play: Newton hits receiver Brandon LaFell for a 9-yard touchdown play.

The aftermath: It was an interesting scoring drive for both teams in general, but Panthers receiver Steve Smith and Patriots defensive back Aqib Talib specifically. On one play, Smith burned Talib for a 42-yard catch. Three plays later, Smith caught a pass from Newton for five yards, and Talib took exception to getting beat a second time in a short period of time. Talib grabbed Smith's leg and wouldn't let go, prompting a fight between the two sides.

Patriots finally hit pay dirt

The play: Quarterback Tom Brady connected with tight end Rob Gronkowski for a 9-yard touchdown play.

The aftermath: The Panthers had built a 10-0 lead before the Patriots could manage a score ... a 42-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski before the end of the first half. The Patriots' first drive of the second half evened the score and set the tone for an action-packed second half of football in Charlotte in arguably the best game of the season.

Newton's stellar scramble

The play: Facing a third-and-7 situation from their own 37-yard line, Newton pulled off a wild scramble around the Patriots' defenders to pick up 14 yards and the first down.

The aftermath: Newton's dramatic scramble was reminiscent of "the ultimate weapon," Randall Cunningham. The play electrified the home crowd and spawned a touchdown eight plays later when Newton hit tight end Greg Olsen for a 15-yard scoring play. It was Olsen's third touchdown score in four games.

Patriots reclaim lead

The play: Steve Ridley scores on a 1-yard touchdown run.

The aftermath: Ridley rebounded from a fumble in the first half. It was the third fumble he has lost this season (a career high). Somehow, he avoided coach Bill Belichick's doghouse enough to be in the game at a crucial juncture. The Patriots defense forced a three-and-out from the Panthers, and then Brady directed a scoring drive that resulted in a 26-yard field goal from Gostkowski to give New England a 20-17 lead with six-and-a-half minutes remaining.

The moment

The play: Newton finds receiver Ted Ginn for a 25-yard touchdown play.

The aftermath: The Panthers completed a 13-play, 83-yard scoring drive with the Newton-to-Ginn strike that gave the team a 24-20 lead with a minute to play. Still, the Patriots possessed all three of their timeouts and the Panthers defense would be forced to make a stand in order to secure one of the team's seminal victories. Brady converted a fourth-and-10 on a drive that got to the Panthers' 18-yard line with three seconds remaining. Brady's final pass was intercepted by Panthers safety Robert Lester, but a flag was thrown on the play after it appeared linebacker Luke Kuechly had interfered with Gronkowski. Instead, the officials -- after a brief conference -- waved off the flag.

It was the Panthers' sixth consecutive victory after opening the season 1-3. The Panthers have won 11 of their last 14 games dating back to last season, and the Panthers boast the NFL's third-highest winning percentage since Week 14 of 2012 (.786, behind the .933 of the Seattle Seahawks and .929 of the Denver Broncos). The win kept the Panthers within striking distance of the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints and announced their presence as a legitimate contender for the NFC championship.

Follow Jim Reineking on Twitter @jimreineking.

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