Cam Newton passed five touchdowns, capped by a 15-yard scoring strike to Jerricho Cotchery with 1:05 remaining as the undefeated Carolina Panthers clinched the NFC South with a thrilling 41-38 victory over the New Orleans Saints Sunday.
Newton, frontrunner to win MVP this season, guided the Panthers to an imperious 16th consecutive regular season victory in the same building where the streak began a year ago. With a 12-0 record, Carolina became only the ninth team in the Super Bowl era to win their first dozen games.
Leading the Panthers’ fightback twice from fourth-quarter deficits, Newton finished 28 of 41 for 331 yards. Jonathan Stewart had a 5-yard scoring run on an impeccably accurate pitch from Newton.
For the Saints, who suffered their fourth consecutive defeat, Drew Brees passed for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Stephone Anthony, the rookie linebacker, became the first player in NFL history to return a blocked extra-point kick for 2 points. Anthony returned a fumble 31 yards for a score.
After the Panthers asserted a 27-16 lead following Newton’s 13-yard pass to Devin Funchess, the Saints rallied back to take a 31-27 lead courtesy Brees’ 54-yard touchdown to Brandin Cooks and a 24-yard scoring pass to Brandon Coleman.
The Saints came out of the gates with a point to prove, taking a quick 14-0 lead when Brees hit tight end Benjamin Watson for a 14-yard score. Soon after, rookie Anthony stripped RB Stewart and ran 31 yards for a touchdown. Despite Brees’ stellar game, the Saints continue to struggle at the bottom of the NFC South.
In the first play of the second quarter, Panthers answered the early Saints onslaught with an 80-yard scoring drive, followed by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Newton to fullback Mike Tolbert.
The Panthers continued to show why they’re the best team in the NFL right now, scoring touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half – a 13-yard pass from Newton to Ginn followed by a 13-yarder to wide receiver Devin Funchess for a 27-16 lead. Thereafter, Cam Newton and the Panthers never let go off their lead.
Will the Panthers create history with a 16-0 record? Only time will tell.