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 start with the offense, presented in chronological order. What was your favorite? Provide your feedback below the article.
Week 1 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin made multiple highlight-worthy catches as a rookie. Remember his lunging one-hander in Week 2 against Detroit? Or his in-traffic snag versus Seattle? Or his juggling catch versus Atlanta?
Those were incredible, but his touchdown in Week 1 was amazing while also foretelling of what was to come. The Panthers were cautiously optimistic that Benjamin could grow into a No. 1 wide receiver in time, but his 26-yard touchdown catch on a Derek Anderson pass – with cornerback Mike Jenkins draped all over him – signaled that it would be sooner rather than later.
Benjamin went on to set franchise rookie records with 73 catches, 1,008 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns.
Week 5 vs. Chicago Bears: Tight end Greg Olsen matched Benjamin with 1,008 yards, but no yards were bigger than the six he gained to give Carolina a comeback victory over his former team.
After the Panthers' special teams play of the year gave them a 7-0 lead, they fell off the pace and trailed 21-7 before Olsen and quarterback Cam Newton hooked up for a 9-yard score 12 seconds before halftime.
The comeback continued in the second half, and Olsen gave the Panthers the only lead that mattered when he snared a pass in the middle of the end zone on third-and-goal from the 6 with just 2:23 left to earn Carolina a 31-24 triumph.
The next time Olsen scored two touchdowns in a game, it was in the Pro Bowl.
Week 14 at New Orleans Saints: There were so many outstanding plays in the Panthers' 41-10 romp that turned their season around, but running back Jonathan Stewart's 69-yard touchdown run was striking in its simplicity and also in the message it sent.
Carolina hadn't won since the Chicago game but played a perfect first half to build a 24-3 lead. The Saints, however, rarely go down easily, but after the Panthers defense forced a three-and-out following the second half kickoff, Stewart definitely dashed any comeback thoughts by steaming untouched for the longest touchdown of his career.
Week 16 vs. Cleveland Browns: Stewart was the offense's catalyst during the Panthers' late charge that landed them in the playoffs, rushing for 486 yards in the final five weeks of the regular season and adding 193 more in two playoff games. But his fourth-quarter receiving touchdown in the home finale was as big as any play he made, and it was as good a play as Newton made all season.
Carolina dominated Cleveland everywhere but on the scoreboard, and when a long touchdown shockingly gave the Browns their first lead with less than 10 minutes to go, Newton went to work. Returning less than two weeks after breaking two bones in his back in a car accident, Newton answered with the game-winning drive.
On second-and-goal from the 9, Newton tried to step up in the pocket but met resistance. He started to scramble away but didn't give up on the possibility of passing, spotting Stewart behind the defense to keep Carolina's playoff hopes alive.
NFC Wild Card vs. Arizona Cardinals: Again, the Panthers should have been ahead but weren't – until their third-string running back propelled them toward the franchise's first playoff victory in nine years.
The Panthers trailed 14-13 midway through the third quarter, but another impressive defensive stand combined with a subpar punt gave Carolina the ball at Arizona's 39-yard line. The Panthers opened the drive with Fozzy Whittaker in the backfield, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.
Whittaker caught a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage and – with some big blocks from left tackle Byron Bell among others - turned it into arguably the team's signature touchdown of the season.