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Rapid Reactions: Panthers hold off Rodgers, Packers


What It Means

The Panthers listened all week to the hubbub surrounding the return of Aaron Rodgers. They then quieted the two-time MVP and any talk about a Packers' miracle run to the playoffs. 

Daryl Worley, James Bradberry and Colin Jones picked off Rodgers in what was his first game with three interceptions in more than eight seasons. Meanwhile, another former MVP came up huge in a big spot for the Panthers. 

Cam Newton went 20-31 for 242 yards with four touchdowns and a passer rating of 128.0. Two of his scores went to Damiere Byrd, who had just two career catches before he led Carolina with five receptions last week against the Vikings. 

The win lets the 10-4 Panthers keep pace with the Saints at the top of the NFC South. New Orleans beat the Jets, 31-19. The Saints own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Panthers, though, so Carolina needs them to lose to either the Falcons or Buccaneers to have any shot at the NFC South title. 

Up next for the Panthers is a Christmas Eve game with 4-9 Tampa Bay, who hosts 8-5 Atlanta on Monday night.

Health Watch

—Wide receiver Devin Funchess appeared to aggravate a left shoulder injury that's been bothering him the past couple of weeks. Funchess stayed down on the turf for about a minute after cornerback Damarious Randall broke up a would-be touchdown catch midway through the third quarter. Funchess came back in after missing one play. 

—On the very next play, wideout Russell Shepard landed hard on his right shoulder while being interfered with by safety Jermaine Whitehead. Shepard did not return. 

Extra Points

—I figured Captain Munnerlyn wouldn't get a bunch of playing time, but I wasn't expecting the cornerback to be deactivated. That's obviously a message from head coach Ron Rivera who's had enough of Munnerlyn's saltiness about his limited role. 

—Because he's missed nine games this season, it wasn't much of a surprise that Greg Olsen's third-quarter touchdown was his first score of the year. What was surprising was seeing it was his first since a Panthers' win against the Rams 406 days ago. 

—Ugly blindside, helmet-to-helmet hit by Thomas Davis on Davante Adams. Davis appeared remorseful on the sideline, but he doesn't have much of an argument against a fine like he has after previous questionable hits. 

—Another week, another case of throwing up your arms and saying, "I have no idea what a catch is." But Damiere Byrd's left butt cheek got him his first career touchdown. His second, a 13-yarder in the fourth quarter, needed no replay. 

 —Rodgers is famous for fooling defenses with his cadence, but Newton had the Packers guessing all day long. Green Bay jumped into the neutral zone four times, or four more times than the Panthers should have gotten early in the second half at New Orleans a couple of weeks ago.

—Before Week 13, the Panthers had scored only two touchdowns in the first quarter all season and never on the opening drive. They've now scored TDs on their opening drive in three straight games.

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