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What we learned: Newton shines in win; Luck stumbles

After dropping the game-ending interception at the end of regulation, Luke Kuechly set up a 29-26 Carolina Panthers victory over the Indianapolis Colts with an overtime interception on Monday night. Here's what you need to know:

  1. It certainly wasn't textbook football, but this was a wildly entertaining contest featuring bizarre twists and turns. Battling a driving rain, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck started a combined 5-of-20 passing, trading futile drives doomed by drops, fumbles and interceptions. Newton eventually staked the Panthers to a seemingly insurmountable 23-6 second-half lead with a pair of touchdown passes and several displays of individual brilliance in sloppy conditions.

When the rain subsided at the start of the fourth quarter, Luck was stuck on 40 passing yards and seemingly incapable of completing the most basic quarterback tasks. As the weather began to cooperate and the Panthers eased into a soft zone with no pass rush, Luck caught fire in a no-huddle attack, tearing through Carolina's defense for 185 yards and two touchdowns en route to the field-goal drive that sent the game to overtime.

While Adam Vinatieri and Graham Gano traded overtime field goals, Newton uncorked four dimes in a row, including a 50-yard drop in the bucket that would have gone for the game-winning touchdown if not for a blatant Ted Ginn drop. Compensating for a couple of muffed Carolina interceptions late in the fourth quarter, Kuechly snared a deflected pass to put Gano in prime position for the 42-yard game winner.

  1. The Colts are now 1-5 with Luck under center this season. His last two starts are the only ones in his 60-game career in which he has been held to fewer than five yards in the first quarter. He has made the same mistakes since the season opener, holding the ball too long, not trusting what he's seeing and aiming rather than throwing free and easy.

Asked if he is playing through broken ribs in addition to his shoulder injury, Luck replied after the game, "I'm not going to get into that right now."

If Luck is playing through pain, it might explain why he has been unable to move the offense until the windows open and the pass rush backs off as defenses ease off the throttle late in games. On the other hand, it's fair to point out that Luck has been at his best when Pep Hamilton is forced to shift to an uptempo attack, ditching the base offense.

"I'm not worried about Andrew Luck," coach Chuck Pagano said after the game. "Together, we will get this fixed."

  1. Journeyman safety Kurt Coleman had the game of his life for the Panthers, coming through with an interception, a pair of big third-down stuffs and three pass deflections, including one that saved a touchdown. The secondary's leader in snaps this season, Coleman is emblematic of Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman's penchant for finding bargain-bin veterans while Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson shops for big-ticket items early in free agency. One of the NFL's unsung executives, Gettleman has built a strong roster around Newton on a shoestring budget.
  1. Josh Norman's unlikely bid for Defensive Player of the Year got another push Monday night. Norman held T.Y. Hilton to one catch for 15 yards, highlighted by an incredibly acrobatic, diving pass deflection that prevented a game-winning touchdown bomb with 1:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Asked about covering Hilton, Norman quipped, "He's fast as crap."

  1. Jonathan Stewart's stat lines won't impress anyone, but he has consistently gained extra yards with second and third efforts over the past few weeks. Going back to last season, Stewart has rushed for 1,184 yards over his last 14 games, including the playoffs. Led by Stewart and Newton, the Panthers have rushed for at least 100 yards in a franchise-record 18 consecutive games.
  1. The pitiful AFC South is 4-16 out of division. Now 3-5 and yet to defeat an opponent outside of their wretched divisional home, the Colts have fallen into a first-place tie with a Houston Texans outfit that has changed quarterbacks four times in eight weeks. It gets worse. Pagano's troops face the undefeated Denver Broncos in six days.
  1. This is the first NFL season in which three teams have reached 7-0. The Panthers' overtime victory made it four teams.
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