CHARLOTTE – On the day of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' heralded return, the Panthers came up with four turnovers to fuel a 31-24 victory.
"Execution," quarterback Cam Newton credited for the win. "We had a lull right there in the second quarter and had to pick up the intensity. I am very happy with the preparation going into this weekend. It showed."
After breaking out of that lull and taking a 17-14 lead early in the third quarter, safety Colin Jones recorded the second interceptiion of Rodgers on the day.
"I had a feeling they were going to try to hit that little seam and coach Wilks had the perfect call for it," Jones said. "I just got underneath and got my head turned back in time and there it was."
The turnover further inspired Carolina's offense, which took over at Green Bay's 49 and scored seven plays later. An 8-yard scramble by Newton and two short passes to tight end Greg Olsen set up first-and-goal at the 9-yard line. Newton dropped back and threw a dart to wide receiver Damiere Byrd, whose back end zone catch counted after a dramatic replay reversal to give the Panthers a 24-14 lead.
"I guess it pays to have little cheeks," Newton joked about the touchdown.
On the ensuing Packers' drive, cornerback James Bradberry picked off Rodgers for the Panthers' third interception of the game. It was the first time Rodgers had thrown three interceptions in a game since Nov. 8, 2009, against Tampa Bay.
Moving into the fourth quarter, Newton continued to find Olsen for first down after first down, and looked for Byrd once more in the red zone. Newton threw a strike between two defenders for the second touchdown of the day for Byrd, who had never found the end zone before Sunday. The score increased the Panthers' lead to 31-17.
"I think it is very important that we can have some diversity in our offense in terms of who we can go to," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Damiere stepped up and made some plays."
Despite trailing by two touchdowns, Rodgers and the Packers clawed back. With less than three minutes remaining, Rodgers connected with tight end Richard Rodgers for a 24-yard touchdown. After the extra point, Green Bay recovered an onside kick to give the Packers a shot at tying the game. Rodgers moved the Packers into Panthers territory, but Bradberry forced a timely fumble on Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison that safety Mike Adams recovered to seal Carolina's victory.
"When they get on the field at the end of the game, any way to get off the field is perfect – whether it's a turnover or a fourth down stop, we'll take all of them," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "James [Bradberry] made a big play today."
With the win, the Panthers improved to 10-4 on the season and are currently tied atop the NFC South with the Saints. Carolina still controls its own destiny in terms of securing a playoff berth but needs New Orleans to drop one of its final two in order to have a chance at winning the division.
"It's tough this year," Kuechly said. "I don't know exactly what happened with everybody today, but I think there's going to be some pressure to get another (win) because of how well teams are playing. Any time you get 10 (wins), that's a good mark for a team, but we've got a few more games and hopefully we can keep moving forward."