CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers have clinched a playoff berth for the fourth time in the last five seasons. They edged out NFC South rival the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 22-19 at Bank of America Stadium.
Carolina saved their best offense when they needed it most. With three minutes remaining, Newton engineered the game-winning drive. Newton’s first fourth-quarter comeback since 2015. After Buccaneers kicker Patrick Murray missed a 51-yard field goal, Panthers got the ball at their own 41. Newton drove the Panthers 59 yards completing 4-of-7 passes for 52 yards. He scored the game-winning touchdown after fumbling the ball for a brief second and raced across the goal line for the go-ahead score.
Reaction about the final drive
“We said in the huddle, ‘For as bad as things have gone today, and as much as we’ve struggled, we just need to be good on one drive,’” tight end Greg Olsen said. “Sometimes these games come down to that.”
“For us, we knew what we were capable of,” quarterback Cam Newton. “It can become frustrating when you get the series and find yourself at third down and you don’t convert.
“Just find a way.”
It was a designed quarterback keeper on a first-and-goal from the 2. Center Ryan Khalil’s shotgun snap was perfect. But Newton dropped it.
“I tell you when I saw that…,” said Rivera, shaking his head and speaking for Panthers fans everywhere.
“I’m just glad we’ve got a quarterback that has mobility and didn’t decide to just fall on it, because we’ve got different problems then,” tight end Ed Dickson said. “He picked it up and was poised enough to get in the end zone.”
Added Newton: “Some say (the fumble) was kind of good because it froze everybody, too. I am just happy that we scored.”
Defense seals the game
The Buccaneers had a final chance to answer with 35 seconds remaining. However, Carolina sealed the game when Kawann Short sacked Jameis Winston on Tampa Bay’s final drive and forced a fumble that Julius Peppers recovered.
-Carolina can clinch the NFC South championship with a win over Atlanta and a New Orleans loss to Tampa Bay.
-Carolina can clinch the second seed with a win vs Atlanta and the Vikings, Rams, and Saints all lose.