Sam Darnold was confirmed as the Carolina Panthers' starting quarterback for 2022, although offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo quickly clarified his comments.

Former third overall pick Darnold joined the Panthers from the New York Jets ahead of last season but again struggled.

In 12 games, he completed just 59.9 per cent of his passes for 2,527 passing yards, only nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Darnold did just about beat out competition from the returning Cam Newton to end the year as the starter, but the Panthers have the sixth pick in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft – and a second return for Newton has not been ruled out.

However, incoming OC McAdoo seemingly announced Darnold's role for 2022 when he answered "yes" to a query as to whether he would be the starter – the sort of question other Panthers have skirted around.

The former New York Giants head coach revealed a big part of his decision to come to Carolina was to work with Darnold, yet he then acknowledged the situation could still change.

Coach Matt Rhule still has a say, McAdoo explained, but: "The way it is in the building right now, Sam is our starting quarterback."

McAdoo added: "One of the things I've been working on is being better talking to you people [media], so announcing the starting quarterback here I just put my foot in my mouth.

"That wasn't something I should have said."

Stephon Gilmore is on the move again and this time the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is joining the Indianapolis Colts.

Cornerback Gilmore will receive a two-year contract worth $23million, of which $14million is guaranteed, ESPN and NFL.com reported on Friday.

It means his stay with the Carolina Panthers has proved short-lived, after he left the New England Patriots to move to Charlotte last October.

Gilmore visited the Colts on Wednesday, with the 31-year-old five-time Pro Bowl star leaving Carolina after playing just eight games for the franchise.

The 10th overall pick in 2012, when he was drafted by the Buffalo Bills, Gilmore moved to New England in March 2017 and helped the Patriots win the Super Bowl in his second season.

Gilmore was crucial in that Super Bowl success, with his interception clinching New England's 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII, a year after they were beaten in the championship game by the Philadelphia Eagles.

He took Defensive Player of the Year honours in 2019, and after playing 11 games in the following season he moved on to the Panthers.

Sidelined by a torn quad initially, Gilmore was activated in Week 8 and started three of the remaining games as Carolina finished the 2021 season with seven straight losses.

Sam Darnold has insisted he can still be a starting quarterback in the NFL, despite the Carolina Panthers' seeming distrust.

Darnold was traded to the Panthers from the New York Jets ahead of the 2021 season, yet Carolina are potentially eyeing a quarterback in the NFL Draft and have not ruled out another return for Cam Newton.

The 24-year-old Darnold played 12 times for Carolina last season (11 starts), recording 2,527 passing yards for nine touchdowns, along with five rushing scores.

Over the past two seasons, Darnold has thrown for only 18 touchdowns but 24 interceptions, while being sacked 70 times.

But despite the Panthers perhaps wanting to upgrade, Darnold is sure of his own ability.

He told the Bussin' with the Boys podcast: "It truly is like whatever happens happens, because at the end of the day, it's out of my control, and I know that.

"I have enough security in myself to where I can be like: 'I know I'm a good quarterback. I know I can be a good quarterback in this league. I've proved it.'

"I know there's a team, if something happens, that would want me."

Darnold was drafted by the Jets as the third overall pick in 2018 but struggled to live up to his billing in New York.

He completed just 57.7 per cent of his pass attempts in his rookie season before improving slightly in a 2019 campaign in which he threw 19 TD passes and 13 interceptions.

A tough final season with the Jets was followed by Darnold being traded to the Panthers for three draft picks, including a second-round selection in 2022.

Last year, form and fitness continued to evade Darnold, who has never played more than 13 games in a season. His passer rating of 71.9 represented a miserable career low.

He did at least beat out the returning Newton for the starting job, but the former MVP could yet sign for the Panthers again.

Cam Newton is again biding his time before deciding on his NFL future, although another return to the Carolina Panthers remains a possibility.

Newton was the 2015 NFL MVP during an initial nine-year Panthers career before he was released in March 2020.

The quarterback landed at the New England Patriots in July of that year on a one-year deal, replacing the great Tom Brady.

Although that contract was renewed for 2021, the emergence of rookie QB Mac Jones meant Newton was cut before the season started.

Newton had thrown just eight touchdown passes to 10 interceptions in New England but added 12 rushing scores – the most by a QB since his own 2011 record of 14 – and did enough to earn another job with the Panthers.

With Sam Darnold injured after an indifferent start in Carolina, Newton re-joined the team in November.

The 32-year-old scored a rushing TD in each of his first five games back, one short of Johnny Lujack's QB streak of six in 1950. Three games with a passing TD and a rushing TD boosted Newton's own record tally to 45 such games.

However, Newton later lost his place to Darnold and finished the year with a career-low passer rating of 64.4.

Still, almost three months on from the Panthers' final game of the season, the team are considering their future with Darnold while Newton is again without a team.

"I have teams that are interested in signing me," Newton told ESPN. "I am waiting on the best fit as it pertains to winning a championship and getting a fair chance to play."

Coach Matt Rhule said on Tuesday: "I love Cam Newton. He's an amazing leader. He's an amazing football player.

"Everything we do has to be right for the organisation, right for him."

The Panthers have the sixth overall pick in 2022, but it is a draft light on quarterback talent. Meanwhile, various trades and moves in free agency have left both the team and Newton short of alternative options.

Scott Fitterer says Sam Darnold is "in the lead" to be the Carolina Panthers starting quarterback for the 2022 NFL season but the "door's still open" for Cam Newton to land the role.

Panthers general manager Fitterer on Friday revealed Darnold is the frontrunner to start under center when the new campaign gets under way.

Carolina missed out on Deshaun Watson, who was traded to the Cleveland Browns last week.

That leaves Darnold and P.J. Walker as the only quarterbacks on the roster, with the 24-year-old set to get the nod.

"Sam's on the roster as I sit here right now," Fitterer said. "He's in the lead for that job. We want him to take it and run with it.

"But we're gonna add a lot of competition to that room. The whole emphasis is to stabilise the quarterback position to play winning football."

That competition could come in the form of Newton, who rejoined the Panthers last November after Darnold sustained a shoulder injury.

A former number one overall pick, Newton's return did not go to plan as Carolina lost all five games he started.

The 32-year-old threw for 684 yards and had five interceptions, but Fitterer says he is being considered by the Panthers.

"The thing with Cam, it's got to be a fit for us and it’s got to be a fit for him just as well," Fitterer said.

"He’s looking for a certain opportunity. The door's still open for us. We're very open to Cam. We'll see where it goes. He knows where we stand."

The Arizona Cardinals continued their excellent road form as they edged the Dallas Cowboys 25-22 in a potential-playoff preview with Kyler Murray leading the way on Sunday.

The Cardinals improved their season record to 11-5 and their road record to 8-1, snapping a three-game skid, with Texas-born Murray throwing two touchdowns as he completed 26 of 38 attempts for 263 yards.

The Cowboys had trailed 22-7 at the final charge but stormed back into contention as Dak Prescott threw three TD passes for the game but Murray expertly managed the clock late.

Murray found Antoine Wesley for two TDs including a spectacular catch in the third quarter, while Jonathan Ward made a remarkable helmet catch on a fake punt.

The Cowboys lost Michael Gallup to injury upon his second-quarter receiving touchdown and did not return, not helping their cause.

Prescott, who completed 24 of 38 passes for 226 yards along with 20 rushing yards, found Cedrick Wilson and Amari Cooper for final-quarter TDs to tighten the game but he also had a costly fumble at 22-14.

Chargers snap skid as Williams scores 101-yard return

The Los Angeles Chargers snapped a two-game skid with a 34-13 victory over the Denver Broncos to boost their Wild Card hopes as they improve to a 9-7 record.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert threw 22 of 31 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns, breaking the franchise record for single-season touchdown passes at 35.

Andre Williams scored a 101-yard kickoff return touchdown in the fourth quarter, while Austin Ekeler returned to LA's line-up and was important, with 17 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown, along with three receptions for 54 yards.

 

Lance leads 49ers to key win in Wild Card race

Trey Lance stepped in for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo and provided two touchdown passes as the San Francisco 49ers won 23-7 over the Houston Texans.

Lance completed 16 of 23 passes for 249 yards with the two TDs and an interception to help the 49ers improve to 9-7 in the NFC Wild Card pursuit.

Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell scored the touchdowns as the 49ers scored 20 second-half points to secure the win.

The Buffalo Bills took control of the AFC East standings as they held firm to defeat the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Bill Belichick's men, winners in the reverse game this month, had hoped to avenge a 38-9 defeat in Week 16 in Foxborough last season – that 29-point margin is the second largest the Patriots have suffered in their coach's storied 21 years in charge.

Yet despite threatening a fightback in the third quarter, the Patriots succumbed 33-21 Josh Allen inspired Buffalo to a valuable win.

Allen completed 30 of 47 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns. In so doing, he joined Peyton Manning as the only other player with multiple three-passing-touchdown games at New England since Belichick's arrival in 2000.

The Bills quarterback was instrumental in a 13-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter that helped to quash hopes of a New England comeback after they had pulled to within five points on the scoreboard.

"The offensive line must have liked their Christmas presents because they played great today. I'm so happy for them and our team to go on the road and get this win," Allen said.

Buffalo (9-6) will see out the regular season against the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets, while the Patriots (also 9-6) face the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Miami Dolphins.

Bittersweet for Odell Beckham Jr as Jefferson breaks record in Rams win

The Los Angeles Rams moved clear at the top of the NFC West as they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 30-23 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Odell Beckham Jr's touchdown helped the Rams move to 11-4 and edge clear of the Arizona Cardinals, who lost 22-16 to the Indianapolis Colts, although they and Los Angeles are still guaranteed a playoff spot.

His Griddy celebration was especially pointed as, with just under 13 minutes left in the third quarter, OBJ saw his record for most receiving yards in a player's first two NFL seasons surpassed by Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson.

Bucs end 14-year wait for division title

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take their Super Bowl defence into the postseason after securing the NFC South title on Sunday.

The Bucs' 32-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers sealed their first division title since 2007 as they advance into the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 2002.

Tom Brady threw for 232 yards and one touchdown as they made it back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time.

The Kansas City Chiefs are making statement after statement as they power towards the postseason, with a 48-9 trouncing of the Las Vegas Raiders just the latest.

Andy Reid's Chiefs were somewhere near their ruthless best in the NFL on Sunday, winning a sixth straight game to improve to 9-4, Patrick Mahomes completing 20 of 24 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns in the rout.

It moved him third all-time in the most yards thrown by a Chiefs quarterback, above Alex Smith, with a total of 17,794 yards.

Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed for 37 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs looked formidable in defense and offense at Arrowhead Stadium.

A fumble on the first play from Josh Jacobs was clinically punished by Mike Hughes as the Chiefs had a dream start, and by half-time they led 35-3.

Curiously, they won and limited their opponents to exactly nine points for a third successive game, after previous successes against the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos.

Tyreek Hill went through 1,000 yards receiving for the season as he took four catches for 76 yards to reach 1,030, for his fourth 1,000-yard season in the NFL.

Mahomes was masterful though, the quarterback ending a two-game run without a TD pass by posting a season-best pass completion rate of 83.3 per cent. He stretched his record run to 20 consecutive regular season wins in QB starts in November or later.

For the Raiders, it was more of the same against the Chiefs, having become accustomed to losses in this game. They have won just three of 18 games in the rivalry since Reid was appointed head coach of the Chiefs in 2013.


JACKSON DOWN, BROWNS BOOSTED

Star quarterback Lamar Jackson was carted out of the Ravens' clash with the Cleveland Browns, and it was a day to forget for Baltimore.

A 24-22 loss means they slipped to 8-5 for the season, while the Browns improved to 7-6, bolstering their Wild Card hopes.

Jackson, doubtful pre-game with an ankle sprain, managed only four of four passes for 17 yards before taking a hit and making way for Tyler Huntley (27 of 38 for 270 yards and one TD).

The Ravens, frontrunners in the AFC North, almost pulled off a stunning comeback against their divisional rivals, having trailed 24-6 at half-time, but it proved just beyond them.

Baker Mayfield went 22-of-32 for 190 yards and two touchdowns for the Browns.

NEWTON WOES PERSIST

Cam Newton has now lost 11 straight games as a Carolina Panthers starter and held himself largely culpable for the latest in that long line.

He also became the first quarterback in NFL history with a rushing touchdown in each of his first four games of a season, but Carolina's 29-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons was a sickener for the former MVP.

He had 15 completions from 23 passes for 178 yards, splitting QB duties with PJ Walker, as turnovers and failed drives blighted the day for the Panthers.

Newton said: "Pretty much everything they did, we knew was coming. I've got to do a better job of protecting the football. I hold myself to a high standard to do those things and when it doesn't happen it's just inexcusable.

"We had such a great momentum for those drives and they were just drive killers, game killers in essence

"We were driving on both of those turnovers I had. To be optimistic, you see what we're capable of, but we've got to do it for ourselves."

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has accepted some of the blame for the franchise's decision to fire offensive coordinator Joe Brady.

Brady was dismissed by Panthers head coach Matt Rhule earlier this week in the wake of their 33-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

The Panthers have lost three of their past four games and are 5-7 across the season, sitting second in the NFC South behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3).

Newton, who returned to the Panthers last month for a second stint, has completed 29 of 52 attempts for 289 yards for three touchdowns in his three games for Carolina this season.

The quarterback failed to land any touchdowns with a 23.8 percent completion rate with two interceptions in the defeat to the Dolphins prior to their bye, making five of 21 attempts for 92 yards

"Do I think I had something to do with it?" Newton told reporters on Thursday when asked about Brady's dismissal. "The competitor in me, absolutely, yes. Because the truth of the matter is you don't lose your job because of success.

"Where I'm at now is doing what I can control to make sure that I have a job, too. Let's just be honest."

The Panthers' struggles on offense have been present before Newton's return to Carolina, having gone three straight games without a touchdown with Sam Darnold at QB.

Jeff Nixon has been handed the role as the Panthers' new offensive coordinator.

"I'm not going to lie, I'm proud to be in the position I'm in," Nixon said. "I'm extremely happy Coach Rhule gave me this opportunity. I'm going to try to make the most of it.

"I know in the past there really hasn't been a lot of people who look like me in this position, so I don't take that lightly. I'm going to do my best and try to represent others like me and do the best job I can."

Newton added: "I'm here to win. When we win, everyone else gets promotions. When we don't, people get cut along the way."

The Carolina Panthers have fired offensive coordinator Joe Brady.

Brady was hired by the Panthers ahead of the 2020 campaign having overseen a historic college season by LSU quarterback Joe Burrow en route to an undefeated campaign and a National Championship triumph during his one-year tenure as passing game coordinator in 2019.

However, the Panthers entered their bye this week at 5-7 following back-to-back defeats to the Washington Football Team and Miami Dolphins.

Carolina's offense, prior to Sunday's Week 13 games, was ranked 31st in the NFL by yards per play (4.77).

Senior offensive assistant Jeff Nixon will coordinate the offense for the final five games of the season.

"I met with Joe this morning and informed him that I have decided to make a change," said head coach Matt Rhule.

"I'm very grateful to him for his time and effort in helping us get established over this past year and a half."

Brady will likely receive a lot of interest for jobs in the NFL and at the college level, where his reputation should still be strong following his exploits at LSU.

Carolina Panthers star Christian McCaffrey will miss the rest of the NFL season due to an ankle injury.

McCaffrey has endured a stop-start campaign and after hurting his ankle in Sunday's 33-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the running back will play no further part in 2021.

An MRI revealed the severity of the issue, which placed McCaffrey on season-ending injured reserve due to the amount of time it would take for him to recover.

The Panthers (5-7) – who are bottom of the NFC South – have five regular-season games remaining following their bye week.

"I love playing football and have dedicated my entire life to what I believe to be the greatest sport in the world," the 25-year-old McCaffrey wrote via Instagram on Monday.

"Getting healthy and back on the field this season has been my focus everyday from the time I wake up until I go to bed. I've put family, friends and all other interests on hold so I can fully concentrate my efforts on treatment, training, practicing, studying, preparing and playing the game I love at the highest level which is why my season coming to an abrupt end leaves me devastated.

"I am thankful to everyone who continue to help and support me through this difficult time and promise I will fight with everything I have to return bigger, stronger, faster and better than ever. #KeepPounding!"

McCaffrey – a First-Team All-Pro in 2019 – already missed five games this season with a hamstring injury suffered in Week 3, having sat out 13 games last term because of multiple injuries.

Against the Dolphins, McCaffrey finished with 35 yards on 10 carries all in the opening half.

McCaffrey, who totalled 421 yards and a touchdown on 68 touches over the past four weeks, will finish the season with 99 rushes for 442 yards, a TD and 37 receptions for 343 yards and a touchdown in seven games.

Ahead of the 2020 season, McCaffrey signed a four-year, $64million contract extension through the 2025 season – making him the highest paid running back in NFL history.

Since that deal, McCaffrey will have played in only 10 of 33 games for the Panthers.

Cam Newton was benched after producing a poor display against the Miami Dolphins but the Carolina Panthers do not expect to change their starting quarterback.

A miserable Sunday for the Panthers saw them go down to a 33-10 loss in Miami, their third defeat in four games.

It was a rough outing for former MVP Newton, who recently returned to the team with whom he made his name as a free agent signing. 

He completed only five of his 21 passes for 92 yards and two interceptions, adding one touchdown on the ground.

Newton was replaced by P.J. Walker with the Panthers (5-7) down 20 in the closing stages, head coach Matt Rhule later explaining the backup had a better grasp of the two-minute offense.

Ex-New England Patriots QB Newton hopes to use the Panthers' bye week to get more familiar with the system before a Week 14 divisional game at home to the Atlanta Falcons.

And Rhule, who cited poor pass protection in explaining Newton's struggles, is not planning to make a move at a position where Sam Darnold and Walker have previously started for the team this season.

"I'm not making any changes right now," Rhule said after the game. "At the end of the day, we weren't protecting the quarterback at all.

"It wouldn't be fair to keep Cam in there and keep getting him hit.''

NFL Research said Newton's completion percentage of just 23.8 was the lowest by a QB with 20-plus attempts in a game since 2004.

Newton, who had looked much better in the narrow loss at Washington last week, had no complaints about Rhule's decision to take him out of the Dolphins game.

"I was fine with that,'' said Newton. "At the end of the day, it's still about being a professional. 

"At that particular point, I had more than enough opportunities to keep the game in the balance. There's no need to put up a fight with that.

"It really got exposed because of the situation, not having a full grasp [of the offense]. Nobody to blame, more so the situation I came into. 

"Having this week to kind of self-scout and dive into what the root of this offense is all about, that's what I plan on doing."

Newton added: "This is the NFL. Nothing's promised.

"Just because Cam Newton's on your roster doesn't mean you're just gonna win. Just because it's a feel-good story doesn't mean you're gonna win. I'm well aware of that."

It was a much better day for the Dolphins, who have now won four straight games to rally from a woeful 1-7 start to a 5-7 record.

Tua Tagovailoa was on the money with 27 completions from just 31 pass attempts for 230 yards and a touchdown.

He became only the fourth player in NFL history to record a completion percentage of 80 or more in consecutive games (minimum 30 pass attempts).

The only two QBs to have achieved the feat before this season are Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, while Kyler Murray also did so for the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 and 3 of this year.

There were other landmarks for the Dolphins too. Cornerback Xavien Howard claimed one of the interceptions on Newton to reach 25 for his career.

The pick meant he surpassed Marcus Peters to become the fastest player to reach 25 interceptions since 1990, doing so in just 67 games.

And rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who had nine catches for a career-high 137 yards, now has 77 receptions through his first 12 career games.

That is the second-best tally in NFL history behind only Odell Beckham Jr (91), who made an explosive start to his career with the New York Giants in 2014.

Sequels rarely live up to the standard of the original. While Cam Newton's return to the Carolina Panthers stands as one of the most sentimentally fulfilling stories of the 2021 NFL season, the odds of him living up to his achievements during his spectacular first spell with the team are slim.

Yet through two appearances and one start, Newton's second act in Charlotte appears to be one worthy of the price of admission, if not one that will yield the honours that came during their initial nine-season association.

The Panthers lost in Week 11 with Newton starting at quarterback, a 27-21 defeat to the Washington Football Team and former Carolina coach Ron Rivera dealing a significant blow to hopes of securing a Wild Card berth in the NFC.

But the Panthers are a long way from being dead in the water and, while Newton is not the player he was when he won the MVP in 2015, his performance against Washington at least suggested his encouraging play in preseason for the New England Patriots was not a mirage.

At 5-6, Carolina can ill-afford too many more slip-ups if the Panthers are to return to the playoffs, raising the question: can Cam Newton save their season?

An upgrade over Darnold

It's a very small sample size, but the early evidence indicates Newton, the man head coach Matt Rhule and the Panthers let go after the 2019 season, represents an upgrade of his most recent batch of successors.

In the defeat to Washington, Newton delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 81.5 per cent of his passes, according to Stats Perform data, and did not throw a single interceptable pass.

Newton was brought back to replace the injured Sam Darnold, whom the Panthers traded for in the offseason. Darnold's well-thrown percentage of 80 for the season is still above the league average of 78.5, but his pickable pass rate of 4.21 per cent is inferior to the league-wide average of 3.62, Carolina's hopes of turning around his career after a dismal start with the New York Jets quickly fading.

The threat posed by Newton's athletic upside was also apparent last week. He averaged 5.86 yards per carry on designed runs, including a 24-yard rushing touchdown on a perfectly executed zone-read.

Prior to that score, Newton threw the Panthers' first touchdown of the game by faking a quarterback draw up the middle to draw up the two safeties and a middle linebacker guarding the endzone, giving him a much simpler throw to D.J. Moore on the slant route.

Darnold can himself make an impact with his legs, however, the combination of Newton's accuracy throwing the ball and his more pronounced threat on the ground led to an exciting albeit losing effort that gives optimism the Panthers' offense can be more potent as he digests Joe Brady's playbook.

Yet one element of his supporting cast may limit the ceiling of a Newton-led attack.

Protection issues a pressing concern

Newton is not short of elite talent around him. Christian McCaffrey delivered a reminder of his status as one of the game's top all-round running backs last Sunday. He demonstrated his burst by averaging 3.7 yards before contact per attempt and his ability to evade defenders in the backfield with an average of 5.5 yards per carry on rush attempts where there was a rush disruption.

Additionally, McCaffrey hauled in a 27-yard touchdown pass from Newton, one on which the quarterback showcased exquisite touch and placement to loft the ball over the outstretched arm of a linebacker and into the running back's grasp.

Top receiver Moore is producing a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when he is targeted, 68 per cent of the time, with his burn yards per route average of 3.3 putting him tied for 11th among wideouts with at least 10 targets.

Newton and McCaffrey being on the field at the same time can put defenses in a significant bind when faced with the zone-read, as Newton's rushing score against Washington proved, with both substantial threats to gain major yardage on the ground.

Moore's continued ascension gives Newton a bonafide number one receiver, yet the impact of having two top-tier skill-position weapons will be mitigated if the Panthers cannot improve on the offensive line.

Indeed, the Panthers entered Week 12 ranked 30th in pass protection win percentage while only the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets have allowed more quarterback pressures than Carolina's 204.

Even in his 11th season, Newton boasts a skill set ideally suited to the modern game and has the weapons to succeed, yet his ability to do so will be restricted if he is under duress as much as Panthers signal-callers have been in 2021.

Home stretch filled with obstacles

The hope for Carolina this month comes in the form of that Dolphins offensive line, which a Panthers defense allowing the second-fewest yards per play (4.91) in the NFL faces in Week 12.

Yet beyond this week and games with the Atlanta Falcons and a seemingly crumbling New Orleans Saints team, the schedule offers little for the Panthers to get excited about.

They face defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quarterback Tom Brady, unlikely to be daunted by the Carolina defense, twice before the end of the regular season, while a Buffalo Bills team whose defense is well-positioned to take advantage of poor pass protection and whose offense is tied for the league lead with 37 touchdowns host the Panthers in Week 15.

Carolina's remaining schedule is the eighth toughest in the NFL by winning percentage and, in a race for the Wild Card spots with three surging teams in the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles, the chances of the Panthers overcoming such a hurdle look small, particularly given the potentially fatal flaw they have up front.

Still, the combination of Newton, McCaffrey, Moore and one of the most efficient defenses in the league at least offers reason for hope. Can Newton save Carolina's season? Probably not, but he gives them a better shot than any other quarterback they have started this season.

Jonathan Taylor grabbed a staggering five touchdowns as the Indianapolis Colts jolted the Buffalo Bills with a remarkable 41-15 win on Sunday.

The star running back became just the 13th player since 1960 to bag five or more scrimmage TDs in a game, and the first from the Colts to achieve the feat.

Taylor came into the game having scored a rushing touchdown in seven straight games, looking to become the first to reach eight since DeAngelo Williams in 2008.

What transpired was a momentous day for the 22-year-old, who was a second-round pick in the 2020 draft, and he pushed the Colts to 6-5 for the season, after their 1-4 start.

He scored from the Colts' opening drive and was unrelenting from that point on.

The Bills, top of the NFL team defense ranking heading into the game and boasting an average winning margin of 26.3 points this year, had little answer to Taylor's breath-taking display and slipped to 6-4. 

This was a rematch of a wildcard round in last year's playoffs, when the Colts were edged out, and Taylor ensured the outcome was markedly different.

He told CBS: "The offensive line and I, we prepared tremendously throughout this week. We knew it was going to be a tough challenge.

"We had to accept that challenge, that's what we had to do coming into this game and that was half of the battle."

Asked what the secret had been to his recent success, Taylor said: "I think it's been the communication between the offensive line and myself.

"It doesn't matter what defensive front they bring, what pressure, as long as we're all in communication and on the same page we can accomplish anything."

He saluted the Colts' defense, who snagged three interceptions, saying: "A lot of those guys were coming up to me, talking about the game I had today. They create and generate takeovers, and we have to capitalise on them."

The Colts' five previous wins this year had come against teams with a combined 13-34 record, with this victory suggesting they can mix it with higher pedigree sides.

Newton loses out to Heinicke

Cam Newton's first start of his second stint with the Carolina Panthers ended in defeat at home, a 27-21 loss to Taylor Heinicke and Ron Rivera's Washington Football Team.

He finished 21-of-27 for 189 yards, with touchdown passes for DJ Moore and Christian McCaffrey. Newton also rushed for a touchdown, but against his old Panthers coach Rivera it was not Newton's night, and his contribution waned late on.

Heinicke finished 16-of-22 for 206 yds with three touchdown passes to help Washington improve to 4-6, earning another prized scalp after topping Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 10.

Vikings pick off Packers as Joseph wins it

Greg Joseph's last-gasp field goal gave the Minnesota Vikings a stunning 34-31 win over the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium.

His walk-off 29-yard glory kick settled a tumultuous game that had seen the Vikings lead 23-10, only to be overhauled and trail at one point in the fourth quarter.

It became a ding-dong battle from there and overtime looked to be on the cards after Aaron Rodgers sent a 75-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling to tie it at 31-31 in the fading moments.

Yet Minnesota made ground and gave Joseph the chance to win it, meaning they improved to 5-5 and the NFC North leading Packers slipped slightly to 8-3.

Rodgers went 23-of-33 for 385 yards with four touchdown passes.

The Carolina Panthers will start Cam Newton at quarterback against the Washington Football Team on Sunday.

Head coach Matt Rhule said earlier in the week that the Panthers were "trending" towards starting Newton.

And he confirmed on Friday that the franchise's first overall pick in 2011, who returned for a second spell last week, would get the start under center in Week 11.

Newton will come up against a Washington team led by Ron Rivera, previously his coach in Carolina.

"He's really done a nice job learning the game plan for this week,'' Rhule said of the QB. "He's worked really hard. He's really a smart player. Really a smart quarterback.''

"The energy is awesome. I don't mean to ever diminish it. I just love the fact that he's on the practice field, he throws his last ball each period, turns and runs a lap and runs back. It's way more to me about the example being set.

"We all understand Cam is a force of nature almost in terms of the things he brings. But I don't want it to be all that people realise. What I see is a true professional that wants to win and puts the time in.''.

Newton made his second debut against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday and had an instant impact, producing two moments that will live long in the memory.

His first touch saw him find the endzone on a two-yard run to give the Panthers the lead, and on his second he connected with Robby Anderson on a two-yard touchdown pass as Carolina cruised to a 34-10 win.

P.J. Walker was the starter at Arizona, and Rhule suggested he will still get some snaps in relief of Newton against Washington as the Panthers look to boost their playoff hopes and move to 6-5.

"We'll have both guys ready," he added. "Game plan wise, we could see a myriad of different things happen.''

 

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