CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Carolina Panthers said they would prefer not to go Lambeau Field in the NFC playoffs.
They might not need to.
Cam Newton threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score, and the Panthers took an important step toward securing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a 37-29 win over the Packers.
Newton completed 15 of 30 passes for 297 yards and ran for 57 yards on nine carries in one of the better games of his five-year NFL career.
The Panthers (8-0) extended their regular-season win streak to 12 and put themselves in terrific shape in the NFC standings, where every other team has at least two losses.
Aaron Rodgers threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns and led a furious fourth-quarter comeback from 23 points down, but couldn't complete it. Linebacker Thomas Davis intercepted Rodgers on a fourth-and-goal pass at the Carolina 3 with 1:54 left.
The Packers (6-2) have lost back-to-back games after starting 6-0.
It was a frustrating day all around for the Packers, which led to some infighting on the sideline.
In the fourth quarter, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix began jawing at Julius Peppers, who was seated on the bench. Peppers stood up and B.J. Raji stepped in, shoving Clinton-Dix backward.
Earlier in the game, Peppers came up with a loose ball after Newton leaped into the end zone for a TD run and threw the ball downfield after the quarterback asked for the ball back. Newton retrieved the ball and gave it to a fan.
Carolina outscored Green Bay 24-0 in the second period to open a 27-7 halftime lead behind three Newton scores.
The dual-threat quarterback was dominant in the first half, throwing for 209 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 37 yards and another score. The Packers opened the game in man coverage and Newton made them pay right away by finding huge holes to run through for big gains.
Newton gave Carolina the lead for good at 10-7 with a 52-yard pass to rookie Devin Funchess to set up a 7-yard TD pass to Greg Olsen. Then he came back with a 39-yard touchdown strike to Philly Brown with 41 seconds left in the half.
He also Newton hooked up with Funchess on a 14-yard pass for a 37-14 lead with 9:22 left. Newton repeatedly went after rookie cornerback Damarious Randall, and the Panthers, despite playing without top defensive end Charles Johnson, kept pressure on Rodgers all day.
The Packers battled back, with Randall Cobb beating Bene Benwikere for a 53-yard touchdown strike one minute into the second half. Rodgers' 29-yard TD pass to James Starks and a 2-point conversion toss to Davante Adams cut the lead to 15.
Then, on fourth-and-14, Rodgers rolled to his left evading three pass rushers and fired over the middle to James Jones for a 36-yard completion to keep Green Bay's hopes alive. Rodgers completed the drive with 3-yard pass to Richard Rodgers, his second touchdown of the game, to cut the lead to 37-29.
On the ensuing possession Randall intercepted Newton near the sideline at the Carolina 22 with 3:38 remaining. But the Packers couldn't convert.
(Corrects Rodgers' to 369 yards passing)
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The Carolina Panthers are 7-0 for the first time in franchise history after a 29-26 overtime victory over Indianapolis on "Monday Night Football."
The Packers suffered their first loss of the season last week vs. Denver, 29-10, to drop to 6-1.
Carolina and Green Bay last met in 2014 at Lambeau Field, with Green Bay winning 38-17.
The Panthers have an all-time recrod of 4-9 against the Packers.
10 PANTHERS FACTS TO KNOW:
- Panthers own longest active (regular-season) win streak in NFL dating back to last season w/ 11 in a row
- The Panthers rank No. 1 in NFL in rushing yards per game (144.0ypg)
- Cam Newton has 10 career game-winning drives in 5 seasons as Panthers quarterback
- Panthers have rushed for at least 100 yards in 18 consecutive games
- Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers was the inaugural head coach for the Panthers and spent four seasons leading the team from 1995-98.
- Since 2008, @Panthers lead the NFL with 16,347 rushing yards
- Cam Newton is 1st QB in NFL history to start career with 4 consecutive seasons of 3,000 pass yards, 500 rush yards
- Greg Olsen has played in 133 consecutive regular season games, 2nd longest streak among active tight ends
- Cam Newton has 28 games with both a passing and rushing touchdown, the second-most in NFL history behind Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young's 31.
- The Panthers rank No. 4 in NFL for points per game (27.3 ppg)
Panthers, Packers know there's plenty at stake on Sunday
Ron Rivera regularly downplays the significance of his team's next game, subscribing to the notion that "the next game is the biggest game."
But even Carolina's fifth-year head coach admits this Sunday's matchup with the Green Bay Packers looms a little larger than most.
The Panthers (7-0) are the lone unbeaten team in the NFC, followed closely by the one-loss Packers. A win not only gives the Panthers a two-game lead over the rest of the conference, but would also afford them the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Packers when it comes to determining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
"This game is important and it could have implications as we get into January, and we'll be aware of it," Rivera said.
You don't have to tell that to Aaron Rodgers, coming off one of his worst games as a professional, held to 77 yards passing and no touchdowns in a 29-10 loss to the Denver Broncos last Sunday at Lambeau Field.
"It has potential implications down the road," Rodgers said. "We both have goals bigger than this game, but this could go a long way when the weather starts to change."
As Carolina Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen said, the Panthers would much rather play in temperate Charlotte in the playoffs than in frigid Green Bay. The Panthers have won six straight games at home.
Carolina won't have the luxury of preparing for the Packers coming off a bye week as Denver did. In fact, the Panthers are coming off a short week, having played an overtime game Monday night against the Indianapolis Colts.
Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said he's gleaned as much as possible from what the Broncos did to slow down Rodgers, and said he'll borrow some ideas from that. But he added that personnel-wise the Panthers are much different and they'll mostly stick to what they normally do on defense.
Also worth watching:
THE BLOWOUT: Rodgers and the Packers dismantled Carolina 38-17 last year at Lambeau Field, with the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback completing 19 of 22 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. But Rodgers, a two-time league MVP, will face a much different secondary this time, including CB Josh Norman, who didn't play in the last meeting. Norman has developed into a shutdown cornerback for the Panthers.
"He does a lot of good things for them outside," Rodgers said. "He has good ball skills, good awareness. He's definitely a quickly ascending player on their defense."
KUECHLY KICKED OUT: This was the opponent against whom Kuechly got kicked out last year when he pulled another player off the pile and then allegedly made contact with an official. Replays showed Kuechly didn't touch the official and the league later admitted Kuechly shouldn't have been tossed from the game. The mild-mannered Kuechly didn't want to talk about the incident, but that helped shape the rule as it today.
COVERED COBB: Randall Cobb, the Packers' best playmaker, is no longer on the injury report for the right shoulder he sprained in the preseason. He remains a primary target of opposing defenses. Cobb managed just 27 yards on six catches last week against Denver. The Packers have lined up Cobb in the backfield on occasion over his five seasons. They might need to move him around the field more against a tough Carolina defense.
DEFENSE RESTS: After a solid start, the Packers' defense has been porous the last two games, allowing at least 500 yards each time out. It was leaky all over the field last week. Green Bay has allowed at least 160 yards on the ground in two of its last three games and now faces Carolina's top-ranked rushing attack and dual-threat quarterback Cam Newton. The Packers, though, have had admirable stretches this season against mobile signal-callers, including Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick.
STEWART CHURNING OUT YARDS: While Eddie Lacy has been a virtual nonfactor this season for the Packers, Jonathan Stewart is turning up the heat in Carolina. He has run for 285 yards and three touchdowns in the last three games. Carolina is hoping four-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil will return from an ankle injury after missing last week's game. He was limited in practice this week.
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