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Carolina Panthers

Rapid Reactions: Panthers slip past Buccaneers


What It Means

With a chance to clinch a playoff spot, the Panthers played their worst game of the season. Yes, even worse than the Week 7 loss in Chicago. 

Still, they got a gift this Christmas Eve by playing a Buccaneers team that couldn't get out of its own way. So with a 22-19 come-from-behind win, the Panthers ensured a place in the postseason for the fourth time in the past five seasons. If Seattle fails to make the playoffs, which it appears they will, the Panthers, Seahawks and Packers will be tied for most postseason appearances since 2013. 

Unfortunately for the Panthers (11-4), the only formula that would have them win the NFC South includes the Bucs (4-11) beating the Saints (11-4) in New Orleans next week. Plus, Carolina needs to win at Atlanta (9-6). 

Health Watch

—Quarterback Cam Newton appeared to take a hit below the belt on a designed run midway through the second quarter. He sat out one play before returning for the Panthers' next series. 

—Defensive end Julius Peppers missed a few plays while he was checked for a neck strain after his helmet collided with safety Kurt Coleman's in the second quarter. 

—Wide receiver Byrd, who had a franchise-record 103-yard kickoff return late in the second quarter, injured his left knee on a kickoff return early in the third quarter and did not return. Because Byrd was showing signs of providing the Panthers with a speed option they desperately need, this could end up as a major loss if Byrd isn't able to come back next week and potentially beyond. 

Extra Points

—Was there a more appropriate way for the Panthers to finish off an incredibly ugly performance than to have Cam Newton fumble the snap before diving in for the winning score? 

—The Panthers improved to 7-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer. They were 2-6 in such games last year. 

—The fourth quarter comeback was the Panthers' first since they rallied at Seattle in Week 4 of the 2015 season. 

—The Panthers totaled just 78 yards in the first half, their fewest since they gained fewer than 60 three times in 2010. And any time an offense gets compared to the 2010 unit, it's highly likely that not a good thing. 

—Byrd's 103-yard return plus Kaelin Clay's punt return touchdown against the Jets equals the first time the Panthers have scored on a kickoff and punt in the same season since Steve Smith (punt) and Rod Smart (kickoff) did it in 2003.

—The Panthers are now 23-7 in December during the Ron Rivera era. 

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