After previously honoring top performers on offense and defense, Panthers.com takes a look at the top plays on both sides of the ball – moments that were both spectacular and pivotal. We started with the offense, now here is the defense. What was your favorite? Provide your feedback below.
Week 5 vs. Chicago Bears: After losing two consecutive games to fall to 2-2, the Panthers were desperate for a win on their home field against the Bears. Running back Matt Forte was proving difficult to contain, racking up more than 150 total yards, but Carolina forced him to make a critical mistake in the closing minutes of a tie game.
Week 14 at New Orleans Saints: We're doing a two-for-one special here. The Panthers recorded takeaways on consecutive Saints possessions in the first quarter, and it was too hard to single out just one.
First, cornerback Josh Norman punched the ball away from running back Mark Ingram on the Saints' second play of the game. That led to a field goal and a 10-0 lead just five minutes into the game.
Then, on the first play of the ensuing New Orleans drive, rookie cornerback Bene Benwikere notched his first career interception on a deep pass down the middle. The Panthers took advantage of the short field to build a 17-0 lead. The furiously fast start led to a 41-10 victory, and it's widely considered the moment Carolina's playoff chances went from hopeful to realistic.
Week 15 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Panthers trailed 10-9 at halftime, but the defense turned the game in the second half. On the third play of opening series of the third quarter, Tampa Bay faced third-and-15 from its own 15-yard line. Defensive ends Charles Johnson and Mario Addison converged on quarterback Josh McCown, forcing a fumble that Short recovered at the Buccaneers' 4-yard line.
Two plays later, wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery caught his first touchdown of the season to put Carolina on the path to victory.
Week 17 at Atlanta Falcons: The Panthers held a seven-point lead late in the first half of the winner takes the NFC South season finale. Roman Harper's interception was the beginning of what proved to be a very long day for the Falcons.
The veteran safety picked off an errant pass for wide receiver Roddy White and followed a horde of blockers down the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown. That gave the Panthers a 17-3 lead, and they never looked back on their way to the division title.
NFC Wild Card vs. Arizona Cardinals: Despite being thoroughly outplayed, the Cardinals had an opportunity to cut the deficit to six early in the fourth quarter. Following a Cam Newton fumble, Arizona had first-and-goal at the 8-yard line.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly ensured the 13-point lead remained intact. Kuechly intercepted quarterback Ryan Lindley's first-down pass for wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, allowing Carolina fans to breathe a little easier knowing the franchise's first playoff victory since 2005 was on its way.