What is in the water in Charlotte? Last week, Cam Newton stunned with a goal-line leap that defied gravity and insulted those who still believe in gravity. This week, another miraculous play occurred at Bank of America Stadium, but on the other side of the ball. In either case, the athleticism being displayed in the Queen City begs the questions: what vitamins are the Carolina Panthers taking and can we have some?
The Panthers defense wasn't supposed to struggle against Saints backup quarterback -- and human Verizon generator -- Luke McCown, but there they were, about to blow a five-point lead at home to a winless Saints squad. New Orleans had stuck with the undefeated Panthers all game and were launching a game-winning drive with under four minutes to go from their own 29. On third-and-6 from the Panthers' 23 and the clock nearing one minute remaining, McCown and the Saints offense needed to make one last-ditch effort at the end zone.
McCown dropped back and stared down the right sideline where Brandin Cooks -- who had converted two first downs on the drive already -- was streaking past Norman, and had a step or two on him. The perennial backup threw up a jump ball, a desperate heave towards the back pylon, trying to beat Norman, but McCown sorely underestimated the cornerback's ball skills. Underthrown by a hair, the ball never reached Cooks, as Norman leaped backwards, hung in the air for an eternity and snagged the pass just inches away from Cooks' hands. The outstretched Norman fell into the end zone with the ball, preserved the 27-22 win and celebrated with his teammates as Usher's "Yeah" blared throughout the stadium, and likely the city.
Just missing the top spots are worthy submissions from Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and Ravens wideout Steve Smith. The Cincinnati great and the future Hall of Famer were locked in a receiving duel as the undefeated Bengals tried to hold off the winless Ravens. In the third quarter, with Cincinnati leading 14-0, Smith decided to take measures into his own hands. On a fourth-and-5 from midfield, Joe Flacco threw a short out to Smith, who curled smoothly away from his route, beat his defender and tore up the right sideline. After beating two more defenders, Smith sped into the end zone, but not before resisting a trailing Bengals cornerback's suplex. That's old man strength.
But Green one-upped the veteran soon after. After the Ravens took a 17-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Bengals fired back immediately. Andy Dalton threw a perfect ball to Green, who streaked up the left seam and raced towards pay dirt. Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith caught up to the Bengals wideout and tried to tackle him, but instead Green spun him around and forced him to barrel into safety Will Hill, impeding both of their paths. Green pranced into the end zone, leaving behind him carnage that would make Edgar Allen Poe cringe.