CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with 1:09 left in the game Monday night to give the Carolina Panthers a 24-20 win over the Patriots.
The Patriots had led, 20-17, after a 26-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal with 6:36 to play in the fourth quarter.
That came on the heels of a Stevan Ridley 1-yard run that tied the game at 17 with 12:37 to go in the fourth.
But Newton, using his arm and his legs, prodded the Panthers to the winning touchdown, and Carolina’s defense held off a final, desperate New England drive, that included a Tom Brady pass into the end zone with 3 seconds left that was incomplete.
The Patriots went into halftime facing a 10-3 deficit.
Points were hard to come by, as expected. Statistically, it looked as if New England was doing well: Brady was 14 for 17 passing for 123 yards, the team had 10 first downs, had converted 3 of 5 third-down chances, and had the advantage in time of possession.
But the Panthers defense made plays at key times, none bigger than on the Patriots’ second possession.
Carolina had two penalties on third down during the Patriots’ drive. The second, against defensive end Greg Hardy, who grabbed at Brady’s facemask, gave the Patriots a first down at the 12.
On the next play, the Panthers stopped Ridley for a 1-yard loss. Ridley got the ball again on second down and this time he was stripped by Kawann Short, with fellow D-lineman Mario Addison recovering the fumble.
It was Ridley’s third fumble of the season. When New England was back on offense, it was LeGarrette Blount, not Ridley, who was in the game at running back.
The Patriots’ first possession ended in a Ryan Allen punt when Hardy blew past Nate Solder to sack Brady for a 4-yard loss on third down.
The Patriots’ final drive of the half started well, with a 23-yard play-action pass to Kenbrell Thompkins, back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch against the Steelers two weeks earlier. They got into Carolina territory on a 17-yard screen to Shane Vereen, active for the first time since Week 1, when he suffered a broken wrist against Buffalo.
But it essentially ended when offensive lineman Logan Mankins was flagged for unnecessary roughness, putting the Patriots in a second-and-25 situation they couldn’t recover from.
A 42-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski, his 18th consecutive made field goal, finally put New England on the scoreboard late in the second quarter.
The scoring followed a now-familiar pattern for the Panthers, who entered the game with the second-best scoring defense in the NFL, allowing just under 13 points per game. They had not given up a first-quarter touchdown this season, and were outscoring teams, 103-42, in the opening half.
Of concern for New England: Brady, whose right hand showed some swelling a couple of weeks ago, seemed to have hurt the hand again early in the game. Cameras showed some blood on the knuckle of his pointer finger, and the quarterback kept the hand in a protective warmer at his waist whenever he wasn’t handling the ball.
And while the Patriots also got Aqib Talib back — he missed a month with a hip injury — something about playing Panthers receiver and former NFC South foe Steve Smith had Talib fired up.
Charged with following the much-smaller Smith all over the field, Talib drew an unnecessary roughness call in the first quarter. Smith made a nice catch and Talib quickly made the tackle, but he would not let go of Smith’s ankles. Smith tried to get his legs free, and the two ended up jawing at one another and had to be separated.
They continued to exchange words and had to be separated at least once more in the half.
The 15-yard penalty on Talib put Carolina in the red zone, and the Panthers scored the game’s opening touchdown five plays later when Newton hit Brandon Lafell on a 9-yard pass with 2:50 to go in the first quarter.
The Panthers went ahead, 10-0, on a Graham Gano 43-yard field goal with 5:06 left in the second.
Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.