(Photo courtesy: Bob Donnan, USA TODAY Sports)
Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY Sports
CHARLOTTE, NC - It came down to one make-of-break drive, with the NFC South title on the line.
And Cam Newton got it done. Finally.
The Carolina Panthers quarterback who struggled throughout the rain and downpour of blitzes for much of Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium, came through when it mattered most to lift his team to 17-13 victory against the New Orleans Saints.
The Panthers (11-4) clinched their first playoff berth since 2008 and can claim the division with either a victory on the road against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 17 or a Saints loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Prospects for such a scenario for Carolina sure looked bleak when Newton set up in the shotgun to begin his final drive with 55 seconds on the clock, trailing by three points and with no timeouts.
And he was having a horrible day otherwise.
Yet on first down, he hung in the pocket amid immense pressure and while leaning off his back foot, completed a pass over the middle to Ted Ginn - who streaked for a 38-yard gain.
Two snaps later, Newton - again under heavy pressure - zipped a 14-yard completion to Greg Olsen.
Then came the game-winner, against another blitz. Newton found Domenik Hixon in the short corner of the left end zone for a 14-yard TD. It wasn't a perfect throw, but Hixon worked back to corral the low pass with 23 seconds remaining.
The last-minute drama completed the spectacular work of Carolina's second-ranked defense, which sacked Drew Brees six times. And it avenged the ugly loss at New Orlaans two weeks earlier.
And it transformed Newton from a goat to a hero.