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Roaring Panthers set for first-place showdown with Saints

November 27, 2017
Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Cam Newton wanted to take a few hours to relish the Carolina Panthers' latest win and then start focusing on their next game.

After all, they deserved to celebrate this one a little bit, especially after how the defense and special teams came through in the fourth quarter of a 35-27 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday.

"To have the guys pick it up and do things that they needed to on defense and on special teams," coach Ron Rivera said, "it was a big boost to the offense."

But, up next are the New Orleans Saints for first place in the NFC South.

"Right now, we just have to debrief from this game and hopefully (begin) getting prepared for our next opponent, which is the Saints," Newton said. "Nothing has changed, and it's just a great matchup that we're looking forward to."

The Panthers have won four straight to improve to 8-3. They're now tied with the Saints for the top spot in the division after New Orleans fell 26-20 against the Los Angeles Rams. That ended an eight-game winning streak for Drew Brees and the Saints, whom the Panthers are all too familiar with.

"They're good," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "There's a reason they're like that. There's a reason Drew has been slinging the ball as long as he has — because he's good. He's good in that system and they're good in the dome.

"We've got our work cut out for us."

The Saints might be saying the same about the Panthers, who overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to send the Jets to their fifth loss in six games.

Kuechly returned a fumble 34 yards for a touchdown and Kaelin Clay had a 60-yard punt return for a score, capping a stunning swing in the fourth quarter.

"It wasn't a blockbuster outing offensively for us, statistics-wise," Newton said. "But at the end of the day, we found ways to win the football game."

This one turned in a span of 2 minutes, 11 seconds on mistakes by the Jets — and the Panthers taking advantage.

First, Kuechly scooped up a fumble by Josh McCown , who was sacked by Wes Horton and had the ball slip out of his hand as he was about to throw, and rumbled to the end zone for a touchdown. Newton then hurdled linebacker Jordan Jenkins for the 2-point conversion to give the Panthers a 26-20 lead with 12:05 left.

After New York's next drive stalled, the Jets were forced to punt. Clay fielded Lachlan Edwards' kick and spun out of a tackle attempt and sped into the end zone. Newton's pass on the 2-point conversion fell short, but Carolina was suddenly up 32-20 with 9:54 remaining.

"We didn't panic," Clay said. "The game is never over. We just kept playing and we made plays."

Here are some other things to know about the Panthers' win over the Jets:

OLSEN TWINGE

The Panthers are hoping to have tight end Greg Olsen against the Saints after he left with a foot injury in the second half and didn't return.

Olsen had missed the previous eight games with a broken foot, but came back Sunday. He had one catch for 10 yards before leaving in the third quarter.

"I felt fine," Olsen said. "It just got a little sore. It flared up. I went back out and played a little bit, but we just thought it would be best to live to play another day."

FOURTH-QUARTER FOLLIES

The Jets' playoff hopes went from slim to highly unlikely with another fourth-quarter collapse. Todd Bowles' team has five losses in its past six games — and have blown leads in the final 15 minutes of three of those defeats, with the latest coming against the Panthers .

"It just sucks, bro," McCown said. "I mean, I don't know. It sucks. It's frustrating."

They also blew fourth-quarter advantages in losses to Miami and Atlanta, games in which it appeared the Jets were on their way to victories.

"It's been a fourth-quarter problem the whole year," Bowles said.

RUN STUFFED

Carolina ran for 145 yards on 33 attempts, averaging a respectable 4.4 yards per carry. That would be satisfying for most teams, but the Panthers came in having run for more than 200 yards in their past two games — a first for the franchise.

Rookie Christian McCaffrey led the way with 62 yards on seven carries, but 40 of those came on one play.

HAPPY RETURNS

The big plays by Kuechly and Clay marked the second time in Panthers history that they had two returns for touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a game, and the first time since the franchise's inaugural season in 1995 against Chicago.

Clay had Carolina's first punt return for a score since 2014, and he received a game ball from Rivera.

"Guys have been right on the cusp of breaking and making a play," Rivera said. "I gave him an opportunity to break the team down and it was good. He earned it and he deserved it."

GO-TO GUY

Second-year receiver Robby Anderson has become a scoring machine for the Jets with a TD in each of his past five games. He had two in this one, a 33-yard grab and a 54-yarder.

Anderson finished with six catches for a career-high 146 yards, and lobbied for Pro Bowl votes to TV cameras after his second score — something that didn't sit well with Bowles.

"I was just excited," Anderson said. "I wasn't trying to come off in a bad way."

___

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