There was a classic in the making on Sunday afternoon in MetLife Stadium.
The undefeated Carolina Panthers came to town and built up a 35-7 lead over the New York Giants toward the closing minutes of the third quarter. But then the comeback began.
Eli Manning threw touchdowns to tight end Will Tye, running back Shane Vereen, and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. In between, Rashad Jennings broke a 38-yard run for a score as the Giants rattled off 28 unanswered points to tie the game with 1:46 left in the final quarter. However, that proved to be too much time for Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who led a 49-yard drive to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired for a 38-35 victory over the Giants.
"It's always a crush to lose," coach Tom Coughlin said. "It's difficult to lose in those circumstances right there. But we'll find a way to keep fighting, that's what we'll do."
IT WAS OVER WHEN
On second-and-10 from the Giants' 35-yard line, Newton ran for a 10-yard gain and spiked the ball to stop the clock with five seconds left in a tie game. Graham Gano, who had his previous attempt blocked by Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, came in to kick the game-winning field goal from 43 yards out as the clock hit zero.
"His pulling the ball down and running for him was, that was the blow, I thought, was his running the ball," Coughlin said of Newton, who eclipsed 100 rushing yards for the third time in his career. "We had had some trouble with that earlier on, too, but we were playing coverage and he pulled the ball down and ran and once he got started, it was hard to stop. But you're asking me if that was a big play. Yeah, that was a big play."
WHAT THE LOSS MEANS FOR THE GIANTS
With Big Blue losing to Carolina and Philadelphia falling to Arizona, Washington gained separation in what was a three-way tie atop the NFC East by knocking off Buffalo in Week 15. The Redskins now lead the division at 7-7 and finish the season with two road games against the Eagles (6-8) and Cowboys (4-10). The Giants, who have lost four of their last five games, travel to take on the Vikings (9-5) in Week 16 before hosting the Eagles in the regular-season finale.
"There's no doubt we've lost some close ones and had opportunities," Manning said. "We've had several that were very similar to this one. It comes down to the final minutes and seconds of the game and our last second field goal. We just weren't able to hold them off and didn't make enough plays earlier in the game to give us a lead and keep it closer. They're a good team and they did a good job and got the win. But definitely got some tight losses this year that could've gone different ways."
WHAT THE WIN MEANS FOR THE PANTHERS
Carolina is still in the hunt to become the fifth team in NFL history to finish undefeated in the regular season. The 1934 and 1942 Bears, the 1972 Dolphins, and the 2007 Patriots did so, but only Miami went on to finish perfectly by winning the championship. Meanwhile, the Panthers, who already had the NFC South title and a first-round bye locked up, are still looking for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs after the Cardinals improved to 14-2. The Panthers have two more games to make history: at Atlanta (7-7) and vs. Tampa Bay (6-8).
"The truth of the matter is, to win this one in this fashion after struggling like we did in the third and fourth quarters, but we had enough resolve to win at the end, that's huge," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "We should have never gotten to that point. Like I said, I give Coach Coughlin and his team credit for fighting the way they did. This is a very scrappy football team, it's a young football team with some dynamic playmakers. When they get it going, they're going to be very dangerous."