(TSX / STATS) — EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — With the game slipping away, it wasn’t Superman Cam Newton who rescued the Carolina Panthers from disaster. It was the rest of his Justice League.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly returned a fumble for the go-ahead touchdown in the Panthers’ 35-27 win over the New York Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Kaelin Clay then returned a punt for a touchdown to provide insurance for Carolina (8-3), which won its fourth game in a row to set up a first-place showdown with the Saints next week in the Big Easy. The Panthers also completed their first-ever sweep of the AFC East.
With the Jets up 20-18, quarterback Josh McCown fumbled the ball as he was hit by defensive end Wes Horton. The four-time Pro Bowler Kuechly scooped the ball and returned it 34 yards for his second career touchdown. Newton, who was only 11-for-28 passing for 168 yards, dived in for the two-point conversion to give the Panthers a 26-20 lead with 12:58 to play.
Then, after the Jets went three-and-out, Clay caught a punt, spun off a defender and blew down the left sideline for a 60-yard touchdown. The conversion attempt failed, but the Panthers led 32-20.
The Jets (4-7), who lost for the fifth time in six games, pulled closer after McCown connected on a 3-yard scoring strike to Jermaine Kearse with 5:32 to play to make it 32-27.
Robby Anderson continued his stellar play for the Jets, catching two touchdown passes. His second of the game gave the Jets a 17-12 lead with 5:52 left in the third quarter. McCown scrambled to his right and pointed to Anderson to get downfield. The 24-year-old speedster faked as if he was going to run a comeback route and then burned Panthers safety Kurt Coleman deep for a 54-yard touchdown catch.
Jonathan Stewart plowed in from two yards out to put the Panthers ahead 18-17 after the two-point conversion failed, and the Jets retook the lead on a Chandler Catanzaro field goal a minute into the fourth quarter.
Anderson scored a touchdown for the fifth straight game. On his first score, he jumped to catch a McCown pass between two Carolina defenders and still managed to get both feet down in bounds to cut the Panthers’ lead to 12-10 with 1:12 left in the first half.
Newton capped an eight-play, 86-yard drive on a naked bootleg around the left side with 10:02 left in the second quarter, but Graham Gano missed his second extra-point attempt of the season as the Panthers took a 9-3 lead. It was Newton’s fifth rushing touchdown of the season, matching his total from last season.
Gano’s second field goal, from 33 yards, made it a 12-3 game with 4:02 left in the first half. On the first play of the drive, Christian McCaffrey scampered 40 yards up in the middle for the longest rush of his rookie season.
Gano opened the scoring with a 40-yard field goal 5:05 into the game. The 12-play drive was kept alive by Newton’s 9-yard completion to McCaffrey on fourth-and-3 from the Jets’ 39-yard line.
Cantanzaro tied the game on the ensuing drive, hitting a 31-yard field goal with 5:16 left in the first quarter.
NOTES: Panthers P Michael Palardy had a 63-yard punt, the longest of his two-year career. … Panthers DE Mario Addison recorded a sack and now has 7.5 on the season, tied with Julius Peppers for the team lead. … Jets TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins dropped a wide-open pass in the back of the end zone on New York’s first drive. It was his first drop of the season. … Jets DT Steve McLendon recorded his first full sack of the season. He got a burner late in the third quarter and did not return.