At this point in the Panthers season, though, it's not about the win.
It's about how they win.
The next five Sundays present an opportunity – not to contend for a Super Bowl – but to grow, learn and head into the offseason with positive feelings.
With the nation tuned in, the Panthers did some growing up against the Eagles on Monday night.
That's because – for the first time this season – the Panthers became closers.
To come away with a victory on the national stage – regardless of the opponent – is a great confidence builder for a young Carolina squad, especially Cam Newton, who put on a spectacular primetime performance.
So, how did it happen?
The Panthers took an early 14-6 lead on two wide open Newton touchdown passes to Brandon LaFell and Gary Barnidge.
Just when it looked like Ron Rivera's team may run away with the game, Eagles rookie running back Bryce Brown began gashing the Carolina defense.
Brown, who ran for 178 yards on the night, reeled off a 65-yarder in the second quarter to cut the Panthers lead to 14-13. Alex Henery added a field goal to give Philadelphia a one-point lead at halftime.
After trading touchdowns in the third quarter, Carolina entered the final frame trailing by one point.
Then, the team grew up in front of our eyes.
After regaining the lead on a Graham Gano 23-yard field goal, the Panthers opportunistic defense made a huge stop on fourth down and inches on the ensuing Eagles possession.
The offense capitalized on the turnover with a six-play, 60-yard drive, capped off by a Cam Newton two-yard touchdown run. With under five minutes to go, all the team needed was an extra point to make it a two-possession game.
But Gano kicked a knuckleball wide right, leaving the door wide open for Philadelphia to tie the game.
Here we go again, right?
The Panthers forced a Brandon Boykin fumble on the ensuing kickoff, and, for once, they were able to end the game with their offense on the field.
The Panthers picked up three first downs to run out the clock, including a crucial third down and three with 1:59 to go. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzkinski, who has played it conservative with the fourth-quarter leads this season, actually called a play-action pass with the Eagles defense selling out for the run. Newton hit Mike Tolbert for an 11-yard gain to ice the game.
You can call it meaningless, ugly or irrelevant.
But at the end of the day, the Panthers closed out a game on the road in front of a national audience.
I call it progress.
Passing: Cam Newton (CAR) – 18/28, 306 yards, 2 TD
Rushing: Bryce Brown (PHI) – 19 carries, 178 yards, 2 TD
Receiving: Brandon LaFell (CAR) – 3 receptions, 74 yards, 1 TD
Check out the video below to see SB Nation's recap of the Panthers' win.
Tags: Cam Newton, Carolina, Carolina Panthers, Football, NFL, Philadelphia Eagles
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