MIAMI – “Seven! Seven wins in a row for the Carolina Panthers! MWA! HA! HA!” (Count Von Count on the Panthers). The Panthers (8-3) are on a roll and have tied their franchise regular-season win streak (with the 1996 team) at seven games following another close win – this time at Miami (5-6). Quarterback Cam Newton led the black-clad visitors down the field on an 80-yard drive as time was running out, and the Panthers came away with a 20-16 victory. It was his second signature drive in seven days after having none in his first 41 games.
The Panthers went into halftime trailing 16-6, and it could have been worse. Head coach Ron Rivera was furious at halftime because he felt, in his words, that the Panthers had “disrespected” the Dolphins by not playing hard enough. When the team came back onto the field at Sun Life Stadium, it was a different bunch of guys. Focused, physical and determined. Yet it took another gamble by “Riverboat Ron” to put the Cats in position to win the game.
Facing a fourth-and-10 at their own 20 with 2:33 left on the clock, the Panthers trailed Miami 16-13. Rivera, who said he prefers “Calculated Risk-Taker” to “Riverboat Ron,” played the odds.
According to an advanced NFL statistics website’s win-probability calculator, the Panthers had a 14 percent chance of winning before the fourth-down snap. Had Carolina punted, and using the average Brad Nortman punt from Sunday, the Dolphins would have gotten the ball back with an 88 percent chance to win, and the Panthers would be left with one timeout and the 2-minute warning.
“We got to do it,” Rivera said of his decision. “We only had one timeout left. You know this (Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill) is a very elusive quarterback. He showed it.”
A 19-yard completion to Smith got the Panthers a first down, and a 9-yard pass to tight end Greg Olsen got them near midfield at the 2-minute warning.
Driving down the field while working the clock down, Newton found tight end Greg Olsen open on a 1-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds left. The touchdown gave the Panthers their first lead of the game, as well as the victory in front of a crowd of 60,156 and a lot of empty orange seats at Sun Life Stadium.
- On the first series of the game, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who does not wear a mouth guard because he tends to get cotton-mouth, was hit by Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake after releasing the ball, and the force caused him to bite his tongue. “I bit my tongue and it was numb for a minute, but it didn’t have any effect on me as far as game play. I wanted to make sure my tongue was still intact,” Newton said. “I had to feel around for it for a minute and I felt it so I was good.”
- Tannehill completed 28 of 42 passes for 310 yards – the first time the Panthers allowed a 300-yard passer since Seattle’s Russell Wilson threw for 320 in Week 1.
- A third of Tannehill’s yardage came on two completions to Wallace, the $60 million free agent acquisition who had not been the deep threat Miami envisioned through the first 10 games. But Wallace found his way against Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, beating his twice for receptions of 53 and 57 yards.
- The 53-yarder was the first touchdown allowed by the Panthers in the first quarter in 15 games, dating to a loss at Kansas City last December.
- The game was the third fourth-quarter comeback win in a row for the Panthers, who now will get ready to play a revitalized Tampa Bay squad Sunday in Charlotte.
- Week 14 game at New Orleans has been moved to an 8:30 p.m. start on Dec. 8 at the Superdome. The game was originally scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m.
- The Panthers (8-3) remain a game behind the Saints (9-2) in the NFC South by virtue of their win at Miami on Sunday. The Saints beat Atlanta on Thursday night. Carolina and New Orleans will play twice in a 15-day span in December, in games that likely will determine the division winner.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera on Cam Newton: “He’s been playing with a lot of confidence the last six, seven, eight weeks. I know this much, it gives everybody else confidence. I think that’s the biggest thing, not just for him, but for us as a team.”
Rivera on Miami: “They’re a much better football team than we gave them credit for. I kind of felt like a couple of times that we were going through the motions like they’re supposed to lay down. This is the NFL and at any point in time anybody can beat anybody. It doesn’t matter what the record is. This was not an easy victory. This was a hard victory. This victory tested us.”
Rivera on the play of Newton following the big hit where he came up spitting blood: “It took him a little bit to get refocused. Sometimes that does that, it spooks the quarterback a little bit. And I think our offensive line was spooked a little bit too. And they got a little concerned after that and they didn’t play well.”
Wide receiver Steve Smith said he thought the Panthers were lazy before halftime. “We underestimated that team, They’re a good team, they’ve got a good defense. We had to improve and improve quickly, because it was getting ugly.”
Wideout Smith, as usual, had something more to say: “We would’ve been getting dog-cussed and (there’d be) talk about how bad we are and we’re pretenders. I think we’ll still hear a little bit of flak from people and fans, naysayers – ‘This team’s not for real. We’ll see next week.’ Because obviously this week has passed and we survived.”
Smith, on the Panthers, a team that lost seven times by seven points of fewer last season: “Unfortunately, we had experience with two-minute drives a lot last year in our losses, so we’ve had a lot of practice. As they say, practice makes perfect.”
Smith on what he told Cam Newton regarding passes over the middle: “I always tell Cam, hit me in the chest and I’ll deal with the consequences.(Clemons) eyed me, so I knew he was coming. The hardest job is catching the ball. I’m going to get hit.”
Wideout and punt returner Ted Ginn, Jr. on the difference between the Panthers play in each half: “We all came out, we’re looking at (the Dolphins) and it ain’t no real hoorah. We went out and played to their level. We came in and our leaders stepped up and talked. Coach came in and spoke. We went out and tried to play a complete half, and that’s what we did.”
Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards on the difference between this year’s team and last year’s: “Last year’s team would have found a way to lose this game. This year’s team found a way to win it.”
Panthers center Ryan Kalil, he of the infamous Super Bowl guarantee ad that ran LAST season: “This team does an incredible job of keeping its composure. In past years, we’ve been all over the place.”