In recognition of the Winter Olympics. Panthers.com is looking back at award-winning plays from this past season. Having already awarded medals on offense, we turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball.
Carolina was poised in Week 15 to knock the Packers out of playoff contention and significantly strengthen its own chances, only to see Aaron Rodgers in his comeback from injury threaten to forge an epic comeback.
That's when cornerback James Bradberry got his hands on the ball – again.
Bradberry had one of three interceptions of Rodgers that helped the Panthers build a 31-17 lead heading to the final four minutes, but Rodgers led a quick touchdown drive and then Green Bay kept its season afloat by recovering an onside kick. Suddenly and shockingly the Packers were about 30 yards from tying the game with two minutes still to play, but Bradberry ended the drama when he stripped Geronimo Allison at the 28-yard line. Safety Mike Adams pounced on the loose ball, and with no timeouts left for the Packers, Carolina went into victory formation.
A postseason berth still could have slipped away the next week in a Christmas Eve game against the Buccaneers, but defensive tackle Kawann Short provided a gift that kept on giving.
Last place Tampa Bay pushed every NFC South team over the final three weeks of the regular season (and beat the Saints), leading the Panthers in the waning minutes before Cam Newton scooped up his own fumble and scored with 35 seconds left. Tampa still had time to potentially get into field goal range and force overtime, but Short squashed that by getting to quarterback Jameis Winston and dislodging the football, setting up a Julius Peppers recovery that clinched Carolina's playoff bid.
The Panthers' offense rolled up a season-high 45 points in a Monday Night Football triumph over the Dolphins in Week 10, but Carolina started rolling thanks to a play on defense.
Miami trailed just 10-7 in the final minute of the first half when the Dolphins made the ill-fated decision to try to score before halftime. Ill-fated because linebacker Luke Kuechly saw a pass to tight end Julius Thomas coming from a mile away, picking it off along the sideline at Miami's 35. That set up a touchdown with 19 seconds left in the half, an exchange that shifted the momentum and set the stage for a second-half onslaught.
JUST OFF THE PODIUM
Early in a Monday Night Football loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles, Peppers got to Carson Wentz and got the ball out, becoming the first player in NFL history with 150 sacks and 10 interceptions in the process. … Defensive end Wes Horton's penchant for recording strip-sacks paid off big-time in a Week 12 victory at the Jets, as did Kuechly's nose for the football and the end zone.
View photos of some standout defensive plays from the 2017 season.