The Panthers still are perfect at 14-0, but you’d hardly know it from listening to Carolina’s coaches and players after yesterday’s last-second 38-35 win over the Giants.
“It shouldn’t have been a thriller, I can tell you that,” said quarterback Cam Newton, who had 340 passing yards, five touchdown passes and 100 rushing yards. “The Giants did an unbelievable job at the end, but for us, we have to do better, and we will do better.”
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The Panthers held a 35-7 lead late in the third quarter but the Giants tied it at 35 with 1:46 to play. The Panthers won it on Graham Gano’s 43-yard field goal with no time remaining after Newton drove them to the Giants’ 25.
“We did a terrible job with finishing this game out, and we’ve just got to create better habits,” Newton said.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera was happy with the win, but not with how the game unraveled near the end. Asked if he was disappointed, he said: “Very much so. Very disappointed in ourselves. We had an opportunity to close a team out, and we didn’t do it. Why? Because we didn’t keep our focus and maintain our composure out there. Bottom line is you’ve got to stay focused when you play this football game. If you don’t, that’s what’s going to happen.”
Rivera was particularly disappointed that the Panthers, especially cornerback Josh Norman, failed to walk away from confrontations with Giants players, particularly wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Norman and Beckham engaged in some back-and-forth through the media in the days leading up to the game, and it spilled over into several heated confrontations during the game. In a third-quarter altercation, Beckham launched headfirst into Norman’s helmet, and both players were called for personal fouls.
“The bottom line is we’ve got to maintain our composure as football players,” Rivera said. “If we don’t, this is the kind of football game we’re going to get caught up in.”
Despite the crazy ending, the Panthers got a record-setting performance from Newton, who became the first player in NFL history to throw for 340 yards, rush for 100 yards and throw five touchdown passes in the same game. He became only the second player in NFL history with 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in the same game, joining Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who accomplished that feat last season.
The Panthers finish up against the Falcons (7-7) and Buccaneers (6-8). Time to go for 16-0 and join the 2007 New England Patriots as the only 16-0 teams in NFL history?
“No, we’re just trying to find ways to get to 15-0,” Newton said. “We’ve just got to get healthy, to make sure we stay on the side of the pendulum where we stay prepared and be ready to go.”