Panthers clinch playoff spot with 22-19 win over Bucs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jameis Winston (3) rolls out against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Cam Newton scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds remaining to lift the Carolina Panthers to a 22-19 win over the upset-minded Tampa Bay Buccaneers and clinch a spot in the NFC playoffs.

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.

UP NEXT

Buccaneers: Host Saints next Sunday.

Panthers: Visit Falcons next Sunday.

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