The Panthers (11-4) trailed most of the second half, but Newton drove the Panthers 59 yards completing 4 of 7 passes for 52 yards in the final 3 minutes before scoring on a what could have been a disastrous play. Newton fumbled the snap from the shotgun, alertly picked it up and then raced across the goal line for the go-ahead score.
Newton celebrated the score by using the football as a prop, pretending to light a candle on a cake in celebration of his son Chosen's 2nd birthday.
Carolina can clinch the NFC South championship with a win over Atlanta and a New Orleans loss to Tampa Bay.
The Panthers sealed the game when Kawann Short sacked Jameis Winston on Tampa Bay's final drive, and forced a fumble that Julius Peppers recovered. Winston threw for 367 yards and a touchdown but was sacked six times and fumbled three times. The Bucs are 4-11.
The Panthers offense struggled all day.
Newton threw for just 160 yards and ran for 52 yards on 14 carries. Carolina's only touchdown in the first three quarters came on a 103-yard kickoff return by Damiere Byrd.
Tampa Bay's defense set the tone early, limiting the Panthers to just 78 yards in the first half - the fewest in an opening half since Newton took over as Carolina's starting QB in 2012.
SLOW START: The Panthers finished the first quarter with 7 yards of offense - their fewest yards in a 1st quarter since gaining 5 total yards in a 38-17 loss to the Packers in Week 7, 2014.
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Danielle Kalil, the sister of Panthers offensive linemen Ryan and Matt Kalil, sang the national anthem. The crowd gave her a huge ovation and she was greeted by hugs from her brothers as she walked off the field.
Buccaneers: Host Saints next Sunday.
Panthers: Visit Falcons next Sunday.
Panther fans get their Christmas wish with a playoff berth
Bank of America Stadium in uptown Charlotte was filled with fans celebrating Christmas Eve Sunday, and hoping for the Panthers to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
The fans got their Christmas wish, seeing their beloved Panthers rally to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I live for game day,” fan Daryl Smith said. “I come out here to tailgate and we are Panthers all the way. Every day is Christmas Eve when the Panthers play because we do it big regardless of what day it is.”
Fans, some decked out in holiday clothing, just couldn’t miss their team’s significant game, even on Christmas Eve.
"That's why I had to bring my Christmas sweater out for the Christmas Eve,” fan Neel Shah said.
"To me, it feels great because you're with your family,” fan Karen Thames said.
"Despite the extra holiday cheer and excitement for a big game, what's happened off the field for the Panthers organization in recent days was not far from fans’ minds.
"It has been a tough week, but just like in life, you gotta keep on going,” fan Scott Bright said.
Last Sunday, explosive allegations against Jerry Richardson emerged, along with the announcement of an NFL investigation.
Sports Illustrated published a scathing account of misconduct by Richardson, which included allegations of inappropriate sexual comments and touching, the use of a racial slur and cash payouts tied to nondisclosure agreements.
Then, Richardson announced he was going to sell the team at the end of the season.
"I feel like we need a new ownership,” fan Rashaun Lester said. “We need something new to come to the city. We need something different, something fresh."
"The Panthers are resilient,” fan Tammy Woods said. “I think they've proven that year after year."
“Regardless of what goes on, I support the Panthers 100 percent,” Smith said. “Only thing I want is for that new owner to come in and keep the Panthers right here in Charlotte."
Harding QB was "Keep Pounding Drummer" at Panthers game
Before kickoff, Harding University High School quarterback Braheam Murphy got the crowd in the spirit as the “Keep Pounding Drummer” at Sunday’s game.
Murphy went from being homeless and struggling with grades to living with his high school coach's family and making straight As.
This summer, Murphy will head to West Point.
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