The Carolina Panthers avoided a late collapse to keep pace with the other undefeated teams in the NFL and moved their record to 7-0. The Panthers needed an extra quarter to remain perfect, but they downed the Indianapolis Colts 29-26. The Monday Night Football slugfest was almost lost by the Panthers in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers got things going early when the Colts committed a fumble on the snap exchange. The rain was coming down in buckets at Bank of America Stadium, and it bit Andrew Luck and the Colts first. The Panthers recovered and drew first blood with a Graham Gano field goal. They would need his kicking skills later in the game.
On the very next Colts possession, the Colts gave the Panthers another gift. Luck rolled to his left and tried to find T.Y. Hilton. Instead of finding his receiver, Luck found the sticky hands of Charles Tillman. Hilton was wide open, but Luck seemed to get the pass off late.
The Panthers took over and encountered a stout Colts defense. But Carolina coach Ron Rivera decided to go for it on fourth-and-one. The call paid off as Cam Newton faked a handoff and ran to his left for the first down. The Panthers’ drive continued and looked like it might stall as the Colts’ defense stiffened again. But on another fourth-and-one call, the Panthers’ Jonathan Stewart powered through the line and into the end zone. The Panthers had taken a 10-0 lead in the rain.
The Panthers and Colts traded possessions in the rain, and the first half ended with no other scoring.
The rain made the field conditions sloppy, and the Panthers suffered another turnover. The Colts helped themselves with another field goal, and the score was cut closer at 10-6.
The Panthers then went to work on the Colts’ soft secondary. Newton dropped back on a second-and-eight pass and found Greg Olsen streaking down the field. The result was a 28-yard touchdown. The Panthers snagged an errant pass from Luck again and turned it into six points. Newton connected with Corey Brown for the score. Graham Gano missed the extra point, and the Panthers were up 23-6.
That’s when the Panthers imploded. The Colts found a way to shut Newton and the Panthers down en route to 17 unanswered points.
At one point, the Panthers nearly gave the game to the Colts. On third down from their 27-yard line, Newton was almost picked off. With 2:16 left, that could have led to an easy win for the surging Colts.
The game went into a heart-pounding overtime and ended with Graham Gano providing a 52-yard field goal to preserve the Panthers’ unbeaten record.
Newton finished the game, and he made a glib comment about the win. “Never a doubt,” Newton joked about the Panthers’ close call. “We are one of the lucky few to say we’re 7-0. We’re not content.”
Neither quarterback had a spectacular night. Luck threw three interceptions, and when reporters questioned him about his performance, he was low-key and took the responsibility.
“It’s my problem, and it’s hurting the team,” Luck said, via ESPN. “I’ve got to fix it. It’s tough to win like that, and I’m disappointed in myself. Mentally, I feel all right. It’s tough to overcome in the game. The points, the short field position, that’s the important thing.”
The Panthers are a perfect 7-0 and still looking for respect.
[Feature Photo by Streeter Lecka / Getty Images]