Panthers back on track for division title
The Carolina Panthers once again control their own destiny for the NFC South division title.
The Panthers claimed a 30-20 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday, while the New Orleans Saints were upset by the St. Louis Rams. This puts the Panthers and Saints back in a tie for first place at 10-4. The Saints currently own the tiebreaker by virtue of their head-to-head win over the Panthers in week 14. The Panthers will host New Orleans on Sunday. The winner will have the inside track to the number 2 seed in the playoffs.
"We control our own destiny once again, which is great for us," Cam Newton said.
Newton threw for 273 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s game. The third-year quarterback is now 23-23 as an NFL starter.
After a string of four combined field goals for the two teams, the Panthers finally got into the end zone on a 72-yard screen pass from Newton to DeAngelo Williams to put the Panthers ahead 13-6 with less than four minutes to play in the half. Graham Gano added his third field goal of the game at the end of the half to extend the lead to 16-6.
Williams finished the game with 87 receiving yards and the touchdown, to go along with 81 rushing yards.
In the third quarter, the Jets pulled back to within three when rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson lined up as a fullback and plowed into the end zone for the score to cut the Panthers’ lead to 16-13. The carry was Richardson’s second of his young career and his first career touchdown.
The momentum swung back in favor of the Panthers early in the fourth quarter when Jason Williams had a clean rush through the Jets’ punt protection and blocked the punt. The play set up a one-yard touchdown run by Mike Tolbert.
"We noticed they were shifting their wing out to the side of the punt and bringing a PP (personal protector) down on the line, which leaves no one in the backfield," Williams said. "It basically gave me a one-on-one with the long snapper."
On the ensuing possession, Captain Munnerlyn picked off a Geno Smith pass and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown. Munnerlyn now has seven career interceptions, five of which have been returned for touchdowns, which is a franchise record.
"Captain is a dynamo and had a really good week of practice and it showed," Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said. "I told him he set the bar really high for next week."
The Panthers will host the Saints in their final home game of the regular season on Sunday at 1 p.m.