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Panthers clinch playoff spot with 22-19 win over Bucs

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Cam Newton scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds remaining to lift the Carolina Panthers to a 22-19 win over the upset-minded Tampa Bay Buccaneers and clinch a spot in the NFC playoffs.

The Panthers (11-4) trailed most of the second half, but Newton drove the Panthers 59 yards completing 4 of 7 passes for 52 yards in the final 3 minutes before scoring on a what could have been a disastrous play. Newton fumbled the snap from the shotgun, alertly picked it up and then raced across the goal line for the go-ahead score.

Newton celebrated the score by using the football as a prop, pretending to light a candle on a cake in celebration of his son Chosen’s 2nd birthday.

Carolina can clinch the NFC South championship with a win over Atlanta and a New Orleans loss to Tampa Bay.

The Panthers sealed the game when Kawann Short sacked Jameis Winston on Tampa Bay’s final drive, and forced a fumble that Julius Peppers recovered. Winston threw for 367 yards and a touchdown but was sacked six times and fumbled three times. The Bucs are 4-11.

The Panthers offense struggled all day.

Newton threw for just 160 yards and ran for 52 yards on 14 carries. Carolina’s only touchdown in the first three quarters came on a 103-yard kickoff return by Damiere Byrd.

Tampa Bay’s defense set the tone early, limiting the Panthers to just 78 yards in the first half – the fewest in an opening half since Newton took over as Carolina’s starting QB in 2012.

SLOW START: The Panthers finished the first quarter with 7 yards of offense – their fewest yards in a 1st quarter since gaining 5 total yards in a 38-17 loss to the Packers in Week 7, 2014.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Danielle Kalil, the sister of Panthers offensive linemen Ryan and Matt Kalil, sang the national anthem. The crowd gave her a huge ovation and she was greeted by hugs from her brothers as she walked off the field.

UP NEXT

Buccaneers: Host Saints next Sunday.

Panthers: Visit Falcons next Sunday.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Newton throws 4 TDs, Panthers spoil Rodgers’ return 31-24

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Cam Newton threw for 242 yards and four touchdowns, and the Carolina Panthers spoiled Aaron Rodgers‘ return from a broken collarbone with a 31-24 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Damiere Byrd had two touchdown catches, and Christian McCaffrey had 136 yards from scrimmage, including a 7-yard touchdown reception and the Panthers (10-4) won their fourth straight home game.

Greg Olsen had his most productive game since returning from a broken foot, catching nine passes for 116 yards and a TD and the Panthers kept pace with the first-place New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

Rodgers, making his first appearance since Oct. 15, threw for 290 yards with three touchdowns but was intercepted three times as the Packers’ playoff hopes took a potentially critical blow.

Green Bay (7-7) had a chance to send the game into overtime for a third straight week, but Panthers cornerback James Bradberry stripped wide receiver Geronimo Allison of the ball after a completion at the Carolina 28-yard line with 1:48 remaining. Safety Mike Adams recovered the fumble.

The Panthers trailed 14-10 at halftime, but Newton threw TD passes to Olsen and Byrd in the third quarter to give them a 24-14 lead.

Byrd’s first touchdown, a 9-yard grab in the back of the end zone, came with some controversy. The play was initially ruled an incompletion, but coach Ron Rivera challenged the play and officials overturned the call ruling that Byrd’s backside landed inbounds and overturned the play.

After Green Bay’s field goal cut the Carolina lead to 24-17, Newton found Byrd again on a slant route to make it a two-possession game with 12:29 left in the fourth quarter.

The Panthers started bringing the pressure after that, sack Rodgers three times in the fourth quarter including a takedown by former Packer Julius Peppers on a fourth-and-14 deep in Carolina territory.

But Rodgers struck with a TD pass to Richard Rodgers and the Packers recovered the ensuing onside kick with 2:40 left.

ADAMS CONCUSSION: It didn’t help that Rodgers lost his most productive receiver in the third quarter with a concussion.

Davante Adams took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis on an interception return by Colin Jones. As Adams was running to make the tackle on Jones, Davis appeared to launch himself at Adams with a peel-back block, immediately sending the wide receiver to the ground.

Davis was flagged for a 15-yard penalty.

Davis immediately appeared to know what he had done, cupping his head in hands as he sat on the Panthers bench. Adams had five catches for 57 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers before leaving the game.

COMING IN BUNCHES: After going 12 games without an interception, Panthers starting cornerbacks Bradberry and Daryl Worley both have interceptions in back-to-back games. Worley got Rodgers in the first half on a deep route along the left sideline, while Bradberry got one on an underthrown deep ball.

INJURIES:

Packers: Linebacker Nick Perry left the game with an ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return.

Panthers: Wide receiver Russell Shepard left the game in the second half with a shoulder injury and did not return.

UP NEXT

Packers: Host the Vikings on Saturday night.

Panthers: Host the Buccaneers on Sunday.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL