Newton's TD pass lifts Panthers over Saints 17-13

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 22, 2013 at 6:35 pm •  Published: December 22, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — There is a message stitched inside the collar of every Carolina Panthers jersey. Two powerful words.

Keep Pounding.

They were spoken by late linebacker Sam Mills during his fight with intestinal cancer, and served as a reminder to teammates and friends to never give up, no matter how dire the situation.

Cam Newton and the Panthers took them to heart on Sunday.

Newton, who had struggled all afternoon, threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds left to lift the Panthers to a 17-13 win over the New Orleans Saints and clinch the team's first playoff berth since 2008 before more than 70,000 rain-drenched fans.

Carolina (11-4) can wrap up the NFC South and a first-round bye in the playoffs with a win next Sunday at Atlanta.

Linebacker Thomas Davis addressed Mills' message before the game, and Newton said it was never more applicable than Sunday.

"That's about the best words you can put for the type of game we had," Newton said. "You know we just kept fighting, kept pounding, kept getting after it. We really knew we were one drive away. We were one play away."

Newton had been limited to 116 yards passing in the game's 59 minutes. But the defense, which had been dominant all day, gave him one last chance to win the game by forcing Drew Brees to go three-and-out.

Newton took over at the Carolina 35 trailing 13-10 with 55 seconds left in the game, no timeouts, a sore ankle and his best receiver Steve Smith on the sideline with a knee injury.

He dug in and completed a 37-yard pass to Ted Ginn Jr. on a dig route to quickly get the Panthers in field goal range. Then he connected with Greg Olsen for a 14-yard completion.

After Newton spiked the ball to stop the clock, Hixon made a diving catch in the left side of the end zone cradling the ball in his chest after beating cornerback Corey White. The catch set off a huge celebration that left the stadium shaking.

"I was 99 percent sure it was a catch," Hixon said with a grin.

The seldom-used Hixon came into the game with just three catches for 21 yards on the season.

"Cam was very resilient," coach Ron Rivera said. "He struggled all day and he knows that. But he came through when we needed him."

Newton said there isn't much time to celebrate with the focus on beating the Falcons next week to secure the division title and a first-round bye.

"When we were 1-3 there was a lot of what-ifs, a lot of people that were jumping off the bandwagon," Newton said. "It was a lot of finger-pointing and saying, 'I told you so.' But as a team we stuck together and didn't veer off and had faith in each other."



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