They're back. The Carolina Panthers clinched a playoff berth Sunday with their 22-19 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here's what we learned from the game:
- Superman Cam made a late-game cameo Sunday to rescue the Carolina Panthers from another week of playoff-berth uncertainty. Cam Newton scored on a 2-yard run in the final minute to carry the Panthers to victory and a return to the NFC playoffs. The Panthers (11-4) trailed for most of the second half before Newton pieced together a 59-yard drive on the final possession, connecting on 4 of 7 passes for 52 yards. Newton, however, nearly blew it. He fumbled out of the shotgun before picking up the ball and finding his way through a bevy of Bucs defenders doing everything they could to preserve the would-be upset. Newton owes his O-line a steak dinner for that one. Overcoming a slow start, Newton connected on 16 of 25 passes for 160 yards. He also had 52 rushing yards. The Panthers can clinch the NFC South next week with a win over the Atlanta Falcons and a Buccaneers upset over the New Orleans Saints.
- Jameis Winston really lost his cool at the end of this one. After being sacked by Kawann Short on a last-gasp drive, Winston lost the ball on fumble to Julius Peppers to that put the game away. Winston was livid with the call, yelling at officials as he was held back by teammates. He continued to yell on the sideline and had to be restrained by coaches and players from running onto the field. After the game, TV cameras showed him apologizing to referee Jerome Boger. It remains to be seen if he'll face any discipline for his outburst, which resulted in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Up until letting his emotions get the better of him, Winston was the primary reason why the Buccaneers (4-11) nearly pulled off the upset. He completed 21 of 27 passes for 367 yards and a touchdown. It's too bad he was sacked six times and the Buccaneers lost three fumbles against Carolina -- otherwise they might have won.
- Damiere Byrd played a significant role in this one. His 103-yard touchdown return in the first half was exactly what the Panthers needed to offset a strong early-game performance by the Buccaneers. It gave the Panthers a temporary lead, and allowed them to stay neck and neck with Tampa going into halftime.