CHARLOTTE – The Philadelphia Eagles entered their Sunday Night Football showdown against the Carolina Panthers with an unbeaten record when forcing at least three turnovers and a winless record when failing to force three or more.
The Eagles intercepted quarterback Cam Newton three times.
The Panthers didn't bat an eye.
Carolina remained unbeaten regardless of the turnover ledger, starting each half with an impressive touchdown drive and stopping the Eagles each time they produced a takeaway to claim a 27-16 victory at Bank of America Stadium.
The Panthers improved to 6-0 for the first time in franchise history.
"We didn't play our best brand of football," Newton said. "Me throwing three interceptions, that's a lackluster performance as far as protecting the ball.
"But," Newton added, "we found ways to finish."
The turnovers made it more difficult to finish off the Eagles (3-4), but the Panthers defense was always up to the task when it mattered most.
After Newton's third and final interception – on a ball that bounced off rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess' hands midway through the third quarter – a Philadelphia team that had trailed 21-6 suddenly found itself 18 yards away from tying the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion.
But the Panthers stopped Philadelphia shy of the end zone – just as they had after a first-half interception at the Carolina 29 - and the Eagles had to settle for a field goal that pulled them within 21-16. The Eagles wouldn't threaten to score again, failing to advance past their own 32-yard line on either of their two remaining drives facing a one-score deficit.
"The guys were resilient," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We made some mistakes, but we were able to sustain. The defense bowed its neck when it needed to."
The offense was the story early – in both halves. Despite a 5-0 record entering the game, the Panthers hadn't scored a first-quarter offensive touchdown, but they quickly remedied that.
After the Eagles received the game's opening kickoff and picked up a single first down before punting, Carolina needed just four plays to cover 72 yards. Running back Jonathan Stewart – who finished with a season-high 125 yards - bulled his way to nine yards then sped for 36 yards. Wide receiver Philly Brown followed with a 25-yard reception down to the 2-yard line, setting up fullback Mike Tolbert for his first touchdown of the season.
"We were just trying to go out and start fast," wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. said. "In our five wins before tonight, we had slow starts. Today we just tried to get off to a fast start, and that's what we did."
Ginn kept it going. The fast start continued when safety Colin Jones picked off Sam Bradford at the Philadelphia 21 on the first play after Tolbert's touchdown, and Ginn followed with what looked like a catch at the 6 on the next play but was ruled an interception. That only served to delay the strong start, which got back on track when Ginn gained 43 yards on a reverse down to the 8 with five minutes left in the half, setting up Newton for a 2-yard touchdown run and a 14-3 lead.
The Panthers led 14-6 at halftime and quickly extended it with an 80-yard march out of the break. The drive featured four passes that covered 13 or more yards, and Tolbert finished it off with a remarkable 2-yard touchdown reception on which he was knocked back by a big hit but recovered to power into the right corner for a 21-6 lead.
"I caught the ball and turned and he (safety Malcolm Jenkins) hit me low," Tolbert said. "Once I bounced off of that, it was just get as much as you can."
The Eagles, in danger of falling out of it, responded with by far their biggest play of the night. On their ensuing possession, running back Ryan Mathews took a handoff and found significant daylight through the middle of the Carolina defense, sprinting 63 yards virtually untouched to pull Philadelphia within 21-13.
"They were able to break through a hole. I was trying to make him a one-direction runner, but he had a lot of space to move outside on me," said safety Kurt Coleman, the last man with a chance to stop Mathews. "I'll look at the film and see if I could have changed my angle, but it's tough when he's coming right at you.
"I'm just glad it didn't hurt us. Other than that, we didn't give up any big plays."
Instead, the Panthers – particularly on defense – made all the big plays the rest of the way. In the fourth quarter, Carolina closed the deal with three sacks.
"We're not satisfied with what we've done," Newton said. "Is it good? Yes, but at the same time we're still trying to conquer things that people said we couldn't do and still surprising ourselves at the same time.
"What's better than 6-0? 7-0."
View game action photos from Carolina's 27-16 win over Philadelphia.