UPTOWN CHARLOTTE – In a week that seemed all about the anticipated return of Green Bay Packers All Pro quarterback Aaron Rogers’ from a broken collarbone, quarterback Cam Newton and his Carolina Panthers teammates decided to spoil the comeback.
Newton, who took exception to the media hype surrounding Rogers’ throughout the week leading up to the game, completed 20-of-31 passes for 242 yards and four touchdowns to lead the host Panthers to a 31-24 victory over the Packers before a crowd of 74,447 at Bank of America Stadium Sunday afternoon.
“That was our chip,” said Newton about the media hype surrounding Rodgers’ return. “People have been sitting on this story for a long time and the fact that we’re in this position now, as well as not getting the notoriety of our team’s success up until this point. It’s been about another individual and we’ve kind of been used to it. We’ve been weathering the storm and not letting the media affect and alter our focus. We control the narrative, as coach always says. We go out and do our job, be professional about it.”
Wide receiver Damiere Byrd caught two of Newton’s touchdown passes and rookie running back Christian McCaffrey had 136 yards from scrimmage (63 rushing & 73 receiving), including a seven-yard touchdown reception, as Carolina (10-4) won its fourth consecutive home game.
With the victory on Sunday, the Panthers kept pace with New Orleans, which defeated the New York Jets 31-19, for first place in the NFC South Division with two games remaining.
Tight end Greg Olsen also had a big day for the Carolina offense catching nine passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. Olsen, who had his most productive game since returning from a broken foot, hauled in a 30-yard scoring pass from Newton to put the Panthers, who trailed 14-10 at halftime, up 17-14 with 11:34 remaining in the third quarter.
Rodgers, who was making his first appearance since breaking his collarbone back on October 15th, completed 26-of-45 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns but was intercepted three times as the Packers’ playoff hopes were dealt a crucial blow. Green Bay’s streak of making the playoffs eight consecutive years apparently is now on life support.
Rodgers lost his most productive receiver Davante Adams in the third quarter with a concussion. Adams, who suffered a concussion in Week 9 at Chicago, took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis on an interception return by safety 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, who was flagged for a 15-yard penalty, appeared shaken by 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 before exiting the game.
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.
Defensively the Panthers sacked Rodgers three times in the fourth quarter including a takedown by Rogers’ former Packer teammate Julius Peppers on a fourth-and-14 deep in Carolina territory.
The Packers will be in action next week when they play host to the Vikings at Lambeau Field on Saturday night.
The Panthers will entertain the Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium next Sunday.
Packers: Besides Adams, 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.
Carolina improves to 6-9 all-time against Green Bay, winning three of the last four home games against the Packers.
The Panthers secure the seventh 10-win season in franchise history.
Carolina improves to 5-2 at home this season, winning its fourth-straight home game.
NEWTON DELIVERS ON GROUND AND AIR
Cam Newton ran for 58 yards and completed 20-of-31 passes for 242 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He sported a passer rating of 128.0 which is his ninth-best all-time and third time this season that he was 128.0 or higher.
Newton had four touchdown passes for the second time this season and sixth time in his career. Newton now has 26 total touchdowns (rushing and passing), tying for the fifth-most among quarterbacks this season.
With his 58 rushing yards, Newton has 643 rushing yards this season. Newton (4) and Michael Vick (4) are the only quarterbacks in NFL history with four seasons of 600 or more rushing yards.
Newton now has 28,943 total yards (rushing and passing) as he passes Matt Ryan (28,866) for second-most total yards through a quarterback’s first seven seasons. Only Peyton Manning (30,062) has more.
OLSEN COMES BACK BIG
Greg Olsen finished with nine catches for 116 yards and a touchdown. It marked his first 100-yard receiving game since 10/10/16 against Tampa Bay.
Olsen became the fifth different player with a 100-yard receiving game for Carolina, a number that ranks first in the NFL and is a franchise record.
Olsen moved into seventh place all-time in receiving yards (7,519) by a tight end, and is in a tie for 10th place all-time in receiving touchdowns (53).
THIEVES BACK FOR A SECOND TIME
One game after Panthers cornerbacks Daryl Worley and James Bradberry made their first interceptions of the season, they each made picks off Aaron Rodgers on Sunday.
Carolina finished with three interceptions and one fumble recovery which sealed the victory. Colin Jones made his second career interception, while Bradberry forced a fumble that Mike Adams recovered. Adams now has two interceptions and two fumble recoveries in the last seven games.
The Panthers have recorded a takeaway in seven straight games, with seven takeaways in the last two games.
Carolina is 8-1 this season when scoring points off turnovers and 8-1 when winning or tied in turnover differential.
PEPPERS AND ADDISON TEAM UP AGAIN
Julius Peppers and Mario Addison teamed up for a big sack of Aaron Rodgers in the fourth quarter, one of three sacks by the Panthers.
The two players now have 10 sacks each this season, become the fifth set of teammates to sport double-digit sacks in the same season in franchise history.
It marks Addison’s first career 10-sack season and the 10th 10-sack season for Peppers.
He joins Bruce Smith, Reggie White and Kevin Greene as the only players in NFL history with 10 10-sack seasons. Peppers is also the third-oldest player with a 10-sack season in NFL history.
McCAFFREY SETS CAREER HIGH FROM SCRIMMAGE
Christian McCaffrey set a new career high with 136 total yards from scrimmage. He finished with a team-high 63 rushing yards and caught six passes for 73 yards and one touchdown.
McCaffrey tied Kelvin Benjamin for the franchise record for receptions by a rookie with 73 catches. He already holds franchise records for most receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns by a running back.
Carolina won its second straight game by a score of 31-24. The Panthers are now 6-1 in games decided by seven points or less this season.
RUSHING OFFENSE GOES OVER 100 AGAIN
The Panthers rushed for 151 net rushing yards, improving to 8-3 this season when rushing for over 100 yards.
Over the last seven games, Carolina has averaged 174.1 rushing yards per game, ranking first in the NFL.
PANTHERS SET FRANCHISE RECORD
Carolina has now gone 18 games without allowing a 100-yard individual rusher. That streak breaks the franchise record of 17 games originally set over 2001-2002. Carolina’s streak is currently the third-longest in the NFL.
The last time that an opponent had a 100-yard rush game against Carolina was at Seattle (12/4/16) when Thomas Rawls topped 100.