(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Cam Newton rallies Panthers to 21-17 win over Eagles

Ryan Chell
October 21, 2018 - 10:37 pm

For the entire first half against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, it appeared to be a carbon-copy of the loss to the Washington Redskins loss a week ago for the Panthers. 

Down 17-0 at the end of the third quarter, it appeared like Carolina was going to limp back to Charlotte with a 3-3 record, another road loss, and a lot of question marks about the long-term success of this team. 

But Cam Newton and this Panthers offense had something to say about that, and they flipped the switch at just the right time. 

In just one-quarter of play, Newton led the Panthers on three consecutive scoring drives, with all three drives going 69+ yards for touchdowns. 

Carolina had punted on their four previous drives in the game. 

With the Panthers down three scores entering the fourth quarter, Newton and the Panthers went 80 yards in 11 plays - capped off by Curtis Samuel's 14-yard end-around to draw the game within two scores. 

Following a Luke Kuechly sack that stalled the Eagles' next drive, the Panthers took control of the ball down 11, 17-6, with 6:52 to go and immediately went no-huddle to try and get back in the game with time clearly their biggest enemy at this point. 

Newton said the decision to go no-huddle may have changed the momentum of the game for the Panthers. 

"When we got into that in the second half, things started to change for us," the Panthers QB said. 

With catches by Torrey Smith (14 yards) and Jarius Wright's 28-yard catch with the Panthers at midfield (only the 2nd throw that Newton has completed this season beyond 20 yards), Newton found WR Devin Funchess in the end zone for a 18-yard strike - as Funchess beat Eagles CB Ronald Darby on a double-move for the score. 

Wright's catch on the 2pt conversion got the Panthers within three, 17-14 with 4:13 left in the game. 

And with no running game for the Eagles - Doug Pederson and the Philadelphia offense tried to rely on their short yardage passing game in an attempt to eat out the remaining clock, but not being able to move the chains, the Eagles were yet again forced to give the ball back to Carolina after an incomplete pass to Alshon Jeffery that stopped the clock. 

Cue Cam Newton yet again. 

After three incomplete passes and Carolina faced with a 4th-and-10 with 2:06 left on the clock and two timeouts, would Ron Rivera punt the ball or go for it? 

Rivera trusted his quarterback, and Newton found Torrey Smith for a 35 yard gain down to the Eagles 34. 

After a 22-yard dump-off to McCaffrey in the left flat that got the Panthers down to the Eagles four-yard line, Newton found Olsen for a one-yard TD in the back of the end zone - completing the comeback that Panther fans had been waiting for the previous three periods. 

But the game wasn't over yet. 

And neither was the craziness.

With the Eagles taking the ball at the 30-yard line, quarterback Carson Wentz went for it all on his first throw - and nearly had it - but cornerback James Bradberry made a game-saving "pass interference" call on Jeffery that saved a touchdown, but put the ball at the Carolina 22-yard line. 

Still needing a touchdown to get the lead back, Wentz's next throw sailed over the middle over the head of tight end Zach Ertz into the hands of safety Eric Reid. 

The game appeared to be over, but the replay officials determined Reid did not maintain possession of the ball all the way to the ground and the Eagles held onto the football. 

But three plays later on 4th-and-2 on the Panthers 11-yard line, Julius Peppers broke through the offensive line and knocked the ball away from Wentz, and Kyle Love fell on the ball - preserving the comeback for Carolina. 

The Panthers after the game credited their faster pace with the comeback - but said they felt like they were never worried about an insurmountable lead in front of them. 

"At some point, our edge is being in the hurry-up," Newton said postgame. "But being in the hurry-up doesn't mean rush or panic. It doesn't mean mayhem. It's just controlled tempo of that."

Their comeback Sunday was the fourth-largest 4th-quarter comeback in franchise history. Carolina scored 21 points in the 15-minute period and has 65 fourth-quarter points this season. 

Despite the win, Ryan Kalil said they can't continue to be sluggish to start games and expect to go deep into the season. 

"We can’t keep putting ourselves in these situations. This team is capable of performing like that in the first half. But this win shows a lot of character.”

"I think we were against the ropes to a degree," Newton added. "We didn't have a great performance in the first half. We understand that. We know that. That can't happen - especially against a good team like this."

But having that win against the Super Bowl champs does help clean that wound. 

"Moving forward, this is a confidence booster for us. It is something that can accelerate us offensively."

The head coach agreed and hopes that it can be a confidence boost down the stretch for this team.  

"It was basically a tale of two halves," Ron Rivera uttered postgame. "I think it's a great way to rally to come back to win, and again, this can be one of those statement wins." 

#2 - Newton Turns It On

On the go-ahead 1-yard TD to Greg Olsen, Newton completed his 17th-game-winning game drive of his career, and the second this season. 

In the fourth quarter alone, Newton completed 16-of-22 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns. 

On the first two Panthers scoring drives in the final quarter, Newton had completed 13-of-15 passes. 

Newton also added 49 yards on seven carries in the game and gained three first downs on the ground - passing Michael Vick's career mark of 343 for the most in NFL history. 

All-in-all, Newton was the straw that stirred the drink in their three-touchdown comeback - the most points they've scored in a fourth-quarter since two years ago against the Saints. 

Newton didn't really have an answer as to his success in the fourth quarter. He attributed it to execution of the plays set in front of him yet again. 

"I don't know...I've been doing it my whole career. Giving defenses wrinkles is what it's all about. Making in-game adjustments, and that's what we did at halftime."

#3 - Eric Reid Makes His Presence Known - Before, During & After The Game

Ever since the Panthers signed safety Eric Reid during the bye week in Week 4, a lot of off-the-field attention has turned its way toward Carolina - even before the opening whistle. 

As the team captains went out for the opening coin toss, Reid - who again kneeled during the National Anthem Sunday as he did in Week 5 at home against the New York Giants - got into a verbal spat with Eagles DB Malcolm Jenkins, who were at one point founding members of the Players Coalition formed in 2017 which supported the acts of protest that 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick as he kneeled during the anthem. 

Reid later left the coalition, and accused the Eagles safety of putting himself at the forefront of Kaepernick's ideas. 

Those arguments fueled into Sunday, and Reid had to be separated from Jenkins as well as his own teammate, Torrey Smith - also a member of that coalition. 

Reid made several glaring stares at the Eagles sideline in the direction of Jenkins, and he certainly focused all his anger toward the Eagles offense. 

On the second Eagles' possession with Philadelphia moving past midfield, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz handed the ball off to running back Josh Adams for an innocent four-yard run. 

On the play, Reid barrelled into Wentz as he rolled out of the pocket, and drove him to the turf.

Coming to his defense was his tight end, Zach Ertz - who Reid also took to the ground. 

The penalties off-set, but after the play, fellow safety Mike Adams had to calm his fellow secondary-mate down, and for a series, rookie Rashaan Gaulden came into the game for Reid. 

Rivera deflected questions to his player, but felt like they needed him to calm down on the sidelines as the blood was flowing. 

"For me, as long as we're able to keep him under control - and I don't even want to use that word 'control' - as long as we're able to get him calm, so he can get his focus back on playing in the game, I really do appreciate the effort he put PLAYING in the game." 

But once Reid made his return, he was all over the field for the Panthers defense. 

Finishing second on the team with eight tackles, Reid controlled the deep part of the field and helped to contain Wentz in the second half. 

His biggest impact came on the Eagles' final drive, as he appeared to come down with the game-clinching interception, but official Clete Blakeman ruled that he didn't have control of the ball going to the ground. 

Despite the extra ciricular work, his teammates stuck up for Reid and said at no point was he making the game about himself and his fight. 

"Not at all," Julius Peppers said postgame when asked if Reid was a distraction. "He nearly won the game."

Even Torrey Smith - who Reid got heated with after the coin toss - supported his brother-in-arms. 

"I support anyone in this league and anyone who's not in this league -who is trying to do the right thing."

Reid called Jenkins a "neo-colonist" and a "sellout" in the locker room after the game and has accused the Eagles safety of using the coalition to profit his own foundation. 

“Malcolm capitalized on the situation. He co-oped the movement that was started by Colin to get his organization funded. It’s cowardly. He sold us out.”

Jenkins was shocked by Reid's reactions during the game, and said despite the reaction he received from the Panthers safety, he holds him in his high regard. 

"I would never get up here and say anything bad about somebody who I know who their intentions were real about helping the community, especially another black man."

When asked if he should be upset that Reid is not meeting him in the middle, Jenkins again took the high road. 

"I'm not going to get up here and say anything negative about that man. I respect him. I'm glad he has a job again. I'm glad he's back in the league again, and I'll leave it at that."

#4 - Panthers Pass-Rush Makes A Play

For much of the first part of this season, this Panthers pass-rush - led by defensive coordinator and former positional coach Eric Washington - has been criticized for its lack of pressure - and sacks - on the opposing quarterback. 

But Sunday against the Eagles, this unit came up big on the final play of the game. 

Faced with that 4th-and-2 with 31 seconds left in the game -backed up on their own 11-yard line - Julius Peppers brought down Carson Wentz and forced the ball out of his hands into the belly of DT Kyle love to seal the game and complete the comeback for Carolina. 

The Panthers got to Wentz four times in the game overall, and have seven sacks in their last two games. 

If any unit needed that confidence booster, Peppers said it was that heavily criticized defensive line. 

"It's exciting," Peppers said of the win. "It's a road win. One that we haven't got this year. It was a character win. It was something we had to dig down and fight for. All the above made it that much more exciting."

The Panthers got two sacks of Wentz from the defensive line with the other coming from Mario Addison, who missed much of the first half with a back injury in the game's opening minutes. 

Defensive tackles Kawann Short and Kyle Love also recorded four tackles apiece - with Short also registering two tackles for loss. 

The Panthers head coach said their work on the early downs on defense allowed this pass-rush to dig their heels in and go after the Eagles quarterback. 

"We made plays when we had to," Rivera said. "We were able to put them in 2nd-and-3rd and longs. Their offense is so effective when they get you into 2nd-and short, 3rd-and-short. Doug does a great job of calling plays, but we were very fortunate."

#5 - Luke Kuechly Leads This Defense

With linebacker Thomas Davis out for the first quarter of this season, a lot of critics have wondered if Panthers All-Pro Luke Kuechly had lost a step in this Panthers defense. 

Those people were quiet after today. 

Kuechly finished with 14 tackles, including four behind the line of scrimmage. 

His sack of Wentz on 2nd-and-11 at midfield with eight minutes left in the game backed the Eagles up and forced them to punt - giving the Panthers the opportunity for their second touchdown. 

Kuechly told FoxSports after the game that he took the mindset of this team in not giving up, and his performance speaks to the resiliency of this unit. 

"We've lost some close games like that earlier this year where we had the ball, and we've got some stops on defense when we needed to," the middle linebacker said. "The offense went down there and scored big...it's one of those things where you keep fighting, and we did that today."

Being able to return home next week against the Ravens with a win on their belt is something they're happy to have. 

"That's what makes this game fun. We've got a great team. Great coaches. And they always put us in position to be successful."

Even down 17-0 going into the final quarter, Kuechly said that playing as an entire team and trusting in his comrades on the other side of the ball was what fueled him in his dominating performance. 

"It's just one of those things where you have to keep playing. It's only a matter of time before teams start scoring points, and those guys do a great job of game planning each week. We just have to keep playing hard cause you never know what's going to happen."

#6 - Panthers Rush For Over 100 Yards; Curtis Samuel Makes His Return

A week after failing to reach 100 yards rushing for the first time this season, Carolina got back to what it does best - running the football. 

The Panthers rushed for 121 net yards in the victory - marking the fifth time this season that Carolina has eclipsed the century mark on the ground. 

They are 4-1 this year when reaching that milestone. 

Four Panthers carried the ball during Sunday's game, including receiver Jarius Wright on a 34-yard end around with quarterback Cam Newton leading the way. 

Norv Turner also drew up an interesting play-call on Carolina's first score with Newton, Christian McCaffrey and C.J. Anderson all in the backfield. 

As Newton and McCaffrey drew the defense to the left, Samuel took the end-around to the right for the score 14 yards out. 

It was his second career touchdown, with both of them coming in the last three weeks. 

Samuel scored on a 25-yard screen pass two weeks ago against the Giants, but only logged three snaps in last week's loss to the Redskins. 

#7 - Gutsy Play-Call On 4th-Down Pays Off; Torrey Smith Makes A Play

Panthers coach Ron Rivera has been blasted throughout his time in Carolina for being a too conservative play-caller. 

You can't accuse him of doing so Sunday against the Eagles. 

Faced with a 4th-and-10 with 2:06 left in game with two timeouts and the possibility of the two-minute warning, Rivera decided to keep his offense on the field and Newton found Torrey Smith for a 35-yard gain after getting past the first down marker. 

"I just knew I had to get the ball in his hands," Newton said. "It wasn't pretty, but the results were."

"We were ready to go," Smith told NFL Network's Tom Pelissero after the game. "Whatever the playcall is, you have to make it work...we were able to make a play out of it."

Smith had four catches for 61 yards, and has nine catches for 104 yards in his last two games. 

Rivera credited his quarterback - who was given the game ball  - with the poise he had on that throw. 

"You expect him to play the way he does. He likes to thrive on these kinds of moments...trying to make plays that help us win football games. That's what makes him a special player."

"When you win this type of game...coming back the way we did...a lot of credit goes to our guys."

#8 - Panthers struggle with Eagles Passing Game

Despite leaving with Philly with a win and defeating the Super Bowl champs, Carolina still finds itself struggling to defend the opposing team's passing game. 

Carson Wentz finished 30-of-37 for 310 yards and two TDs. 

Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery had a field day against cornerback James Bradberry, catching 88 yards on 7 passes and a score. 

He also drew a 48-yard pass interference call on Bradberry on the Eagles' final drive. And while the play saved a touchdown, it nearly set the Eagles up for the winning score. 

However, Bradberry did make plays against the Eagles' #1-wideout, including stopping Alshon on a 3rd-and-5 on the CAR-27 yard line which led to a Mario Addison sack and a Jake Elliott 46-yard field goal. 

On the other side, Donte Jackson only recorded one tackle and reportedly was only targeted once in the passing game. 

For the second straight week, the Panthers allowed an opposing tight end to carve up the middle of the field. 

Zach Ertz caught nine passes for 138 yards on 11 targets, while rookie tight end Dallas Goedert also added 43 yards of his own and Wentz's other touchdown catch. 

"Early on, we were playing some zone coverage and they were sitting down in the open coverages," Ron Rivera said. "They did a real nice job finding those open areas."

Rivera added that while they're happy to get the win, it's performances like that they can't feel too happy about overall. 

"The message is we're not where we want to be. We have an opportunity every week to take another step forward. We'll enjoy this one until Monday when we watch the tape tomorrow."

#9 - Graham Gano Misses Another XP; Kicking On The Forefront Around The NFC South

Two weeks after kicking a 63-yard field goal to win the game 33-31 for Carolina against the New York Giants, kicker Graham Gano has missed extra points in consecutive games. 

After Curtis Samuel's 14-yard scamper to begin the fourth quarter, Gano's XP failed to go through the uprights, and the Panthers had to gain the point back yet again on a 2pt conversion by Jarius Wright their next scoring possession. 

Gano was robbed of an opportunity for a field goal attempt in the second quarter with the Panthers trailing 10-0. 

With 4th-and-5 on the Eagles 21-yard line, right guard Trai Turner was called for a false start penalty as they lined up for the kick. 

After backing the ball back to the 26-yard line, wing Efe Obada also committed a false-start penalty, and instead of attempting a 49-yard field goal with the blustry Philadelphia wind, Rivera sent punter Michael Palardy out to kick the ball away for the field position. 

Kicking performances also affected games for two of the Panthers' opponents in the NFC South. 

Bucs kicker Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 59-yard field goal in overtime to lift Tampa Bay to victory over the Cleveland Browns, 26-23.

The Bucs evened their record at 3-3 on the year. 

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker missed his first career XP with :32 seconds left in the game to lift the Saints to victory and bring their win total to 5-1 on the season. 

The Saints won 24-23 and Drew Brees recorded his first career win against the Ravens, who travel to Carolina next Sunday. 

#10 - Notes 

The Panthers' win today moves Carolina to 5-7 all-time against Philadelphia, and is the fifth consecutive time that the two teams have alternated wins and losses against each other. 

With the victory, Ron Rivera's squad has beaten the defending Super Bowl champs in back-to-back-seasons. 

Both games also came on the road. 

Carolina has yet to lose back-to-back games since last October (Philadelphia and Chicago) and before the fourth quarter, avoided being shut out for the first time since the 2002 season. 

With Devin Funchess' team-leading 62 receiving yards, the fourth-year WR leads the team with 374 yards receiving and three touchdowns. 

He passed Ted Ginn on the all-time franchise list for receiving yards with 2,047. 

With his 18-yard TD in the fourth quarter, he also passed former Panthers RB Stephen Davis for 10th in career points scored in Carolina.

Panthers TE Greg Olsen, who made his return last week following a second fracture of his right foot, caught his 54th career TD for the go-ahead score from one-yard out. With the touchdown grab, Olsen tied former Panthers TE Wesley Walls for 12th all-time among tight ends for receiving touchdowns. 

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