GAME RECAP (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(CHARLOTTE) - The Carolina Panthers didn't want to be consumed with the return of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Instead, quarterback Cam Newton made a series of headline-worthy plays and the defense rose to the occasion by forcing four turnovers as the Panthers won 31-24 on Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium. "We said we were focused on us and that's what we did," safety Mike Adams said. "We disguised some things a little bit." It resulted in a troublesome outing for Rodgers, a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player who threw three interceptions along with three touchdown passes. "The DBs played awesome," Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said of the members of the secondary. "Those guys made the difference." Newton did, too. He threw three of his four touchdown passes in the opening 18 minutes of the second half. Newton completed 20 of 31 passes for 242 yards as the Panthers (10-4) remained in a first-place tie in the NFC South. Each of Rodgers' interceptions came on underthrown balls. He completed 27 of 45 passes for 287 yards, but the Packers (7-7) saw their postgame aspirations crippled. "I didn't throw it as well as I'm used to throwing it and that hurt us," Rodgers said. Disrupting Rodgers' rhythm was all part of the Carolina plan. "We've just got to do our part," defensive tackle Kawann Short said. "We all locked in and stayed focused on the task at hand." Trailing 24-14, the Packers used a 12-play drive, which included a fourth-down conversion on Rodgers' keeper, for Mason Crosby's 28-yard field goal with 1:23 left in the third quarter. The Panthers pushed their lead to 31-17 on Newton's 13-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd with 12:24 remaining. Green Bay, despite another fourth-down conversion, stalled after reaching the Carolina 21. A fourth-down sack by former Packers defensive end Julius Peppers gave the ball back to the Panthers. But Green Bay got the ball back and Rodgers hit tight end Richard Rodgers on a 24-yard touchdown pass with 2:43 to play. The Packers recovered the onside kick. "We know how to keep a game interesting there at the end," Newton said. Green Bay moved to the Carolina 26, where receiver Geronimo Allison fumbled after picking up first-down yardage with 1:48 remaining. Adams recovered the ball after James Bradberry forced the fumble. "I think we had the momentum and we had it inside the 30 there with (enough) time," Rodgers said. Earlier, Newton's 30-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen on the opening possession of the second half enabled the Panthers to regain the lead at 17-14. After Colin Jones picked off Rodgers on the next possession, the Panthers scored again on Byrd's 9-yard bobbling touchdown catch in the back of the end zone. Byrd called it likely his best catch ever. "Probably," he said. "I'm sure nobody expected that from me." Bradberry had an interception at the 7:01 mark of the third quarter, so that was the third time on seven Green Bay possessions that the Panthers came up with a pickoff. Green Bay went ahead for the first time with 26 seconds left in the second quarter when Rodgers, as he was falling toward the ground under heavy pressure, released a pass to Randall Cobb for a 33-yard touchdown play. Rodgers was intercepted by Daryl Worley on an underthrown second-quarter pass intended for Davante Adams. Rodgers, 34, missed seven games. He hadn't played since suffering the broken collarbone during an Oct. 15 loss at Minnesota. Running back Christian McCaffrey was the focal point of Carolina's first drive, with his 7-yard reception accounting for a touchdown to complete a 15-play, 85-yard drive. On the march, McCaffrey accounted for 40 receiving yards on four catches and rushed for 20 yards on five attempts. The Packers were on the board on Rodgers' 13-yard, third-down pass to Adams on the final play of the first quarter. Graham Gano's 33-yard field goal gave the Panthers a 10-7 lead in the second quarter. Adams departed after the Packers' first possession of the second half as he was evaluated for a possible concussion. When another underthrown pass by Rodgers was intercepted by Jones, Adams was wiped out on a block by Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis. The Packers had won two in a row by six points with Brett Hundley filling in for the injured Rodgers.
NOTES: Panthers RG Trai Turner missed the game after going into the concussion protocol during the week. ... CB Captain Munnerlyn, who played a key role a week earlier against Minnesota, was inactive for the Panthers. It wasn't an injury-related move. ... With QB Aaron Rodgers activated, QB Joe Callahan was waived Saturday. ... Green Bay's defensive coordinator is Dom Capers, who was the original coach of the Panthers. ... The Packers play their home finale Saturday night against Minnesota. ... Carolina wraps up a three-game homestand with its regular-season home finale next week against Tampa Bay. ... Two days prior to the game, the Panthers announced they had opened an investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct involving owner Jerry Richardson. On Sunday, the NFL announced it has taken over the investigation and Sports Illustrated reported that the team paid settlements with four former employees.
                         GREEN BAY      CAROLINA
First downs                     24            29
Rushes-yards                19-120        38-151
Net Passing yards              264           236
Passing (Att-Comp-Int)     45-26-3       31-20-0
Sacked-Yards Lost             3-26           1-6
Punts-Average               2-41.0        4-43.5
Fumbles                          1             0
Penalties-Yards               6-28          5-40
Time of Possession           26:03         33:57
GREEN BAY -  7   7   3   7  - 24
CAROLINA  -  7   3  14   7  - 31
1st - CAR - Christian McCaffery, 7-yard pass from Cam Newton (Graham Gano kick) CAROLINA 7-0
1st - GB - Davante Adams, 13-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers (Mason Crosby kick) TIED 7-7
2nd - CAR - Gano, 33-yard field goal CAROLINA 10-7
2nd - GB - Randall Cobb, 33-yard pass from Rodgers (Crosby kick) GREEN BAY 14-10
3rd - CAR - Greg Olsen, 30-yard pass from Newton (Gano kick) CAROLINA 17-14
3rd - CAR - Damiere Byrd, 9-yard pass from Newton (Gano kick) CAROLINA 24-14
3rd - GB - Crosby, 28-yard field goal CAROLINA 24-17
4th - CAR - Byrd, 13-yard pass from Newton (Gano kick) CAROLINA 31-17
4th - GB - Richard Rodgers, 24-yard pass from Rodgers (Crosby kick) CAROLINA 31-24
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING
GREEN BAY - Aaron Jones 3-47, Aaron Rodgers 6-43, Jamaal Williams 10-30
CAROLINA - Christian McCaffery 12-63, Cam Newton 14-58, Jonathan Stewart 11-27, Fozzy Whittaker 1-3
PASSING
GREEN BAY - Aaron Rodgers 45-26-290 3 TD 3 INT
CAROLINA - Cam Newton 31-20-242 4 TD
RECEIVING
GREEN BAY - Randall Cobb 7-84 1 TD, Davante Adams 5-57 1 TD, Geronimo Allison 5-33, Richard Rodgers 4-77 1 TD, Jordy Nelson 3-28, Aaron Jones 1-6, Lance Kendricks 1-5
CAROLINA - Greg Olsen 9-116 1 TD, Christian McCaffery 6-73 1 TD, Damiere Byrd 3-25 2 TD, Devin Funchess 1-19, Jonathan Stewart 1-9

Panthers QB Cam Newton throws 4 TD passes to take down Green Bay

CHARLOTTE - The return of QB Aaron Rodgers didn’t go as hoped for the Packers, as the Panthers handed them a 31-24 defeat on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. Rodgers, coming back after missing seven games with a broken collarbone, had his first three-interception game in eight years, but he was trying to put together a valiant fourth-quarter comeback when it ended with a WR Geronimo Allison fumble inside the Carolina 30-yard line in the final two minutes. Green Bay’s defense struggled with Carolina QB Cam Newton and all of his weapons, as the Panthers QB threw four TD passes. With the loss, the Packers dropped to 7-7 and in all likelihood saw their streak of eight consecutive postseason appearances come to an end. The Panthers improved to 10-4, right in the thick of the NFC wild-card picture and still in contention for the NFC South title. Rodgers finished 26-of-45 for 290 yards with three TDs and the three INTs for a 71.5 passer rating. He also had 43 yards rushing on six attempts. RB Aaron Jones had 47 rushing yards on just three carries, while WR Randall Cobb led the receiving corps with seven catches for 84 yards and a score. WR Davante Adams added five grabs for 57 yards and a TD before leaving with a concussion, which occurred on a blindside block by Panthers LB Thomas Davis on a Carolina interception return. TE Richard Rodgers had four catches for 77 yards and a TD. For the Panthers, Newton was 20-of-31 for 242 yards with four TDs for a 128.0 rating. He added 58 yards rushing on 14 attempts. RB Christian McCaffrey piled up 135 yards from scrimmage (62 rushing, 73 receiving) with a TD, while TE Greg Olsen had nine grabs for 116 yards and a score. Here's a recap of the action.
First quarter: The Packers and Panthers traded TD drives in the first quarter and headed to the second tied at 7. The Panthers won the toss and deferred. The Packers got one first down on a 12-yard pass from QB Aaron Rodgers to WR Davante Adams on the first play, but went three-and-out from there. Rodgers’ third-down pass over the middle for WR Randall Cobb was broken up by a big hit from S Kurt Coleman, and Green Bay punted. The Panthers got going on a 10-yard run by RB Christian McCaffrey and a 9-yard pass from QB Cam Newton to TE Greg Olsen. On third-and-9, Newton scrambled and got the first down by an inch or so, putting the ball near midfield. The on third-and-5, Newton hit McCaffrey on a wheel route out of the backfield for 20 yards to the Green Bay 24. Newton hit McCaffrey again on third-and-2 for 9 yards, making it first-and-goal from the 9. On second down, Newton found McCaffrey yet again – the rookie’s ninth touch on the drive – for a 7-yard TD reception. McCaffrey had 60 yards (20 rushing, 40 receiving) on the 85-yard drive that took 15 plays and 7:35 off the clock. Rodgers began Green Bay’s next drive with a 10-yard pass to Adams and a 23-yard pass to Cobb into Carolina territory. After a 7-yard scramble by Rodgers, RB Jamaal Williams ran for 9 yards and another first down. An 8-yard scramble by Rodgers set up third-and-2 from the 16, and Williams plowed ahead to convert. Just before third-and-9 from the 13, the Packers called timeout, and then Rodgers found Adams wide open in the end zone to tie the game on the final play of the quarter.
Second quarter: A late touchdown on classic improvisation by QB Aaron Rodgers gave the Packers a 14-10 lead over the Panther. Carolina began the second quarter with a 9-yard pass to RB Jonathan Stewart on a screen, and three straight runs by Stewart for 15 yards. The Packers then gave the Panthers a first down with back-to-back offside penalties on LB Clay Matthews and DT Kenny Clark before Newton hit Olsen for 14 yards to the Green Bay 28. On third-and-5, Newton hit McCaffrey for 11 yards to the 12. LB Ahmad Brooks tackled Stewart for a 4-yard loss on second down, setting up third-and-14 from the 15, and Newton’s pass for WR Devin Funchess was high. K Graham Gano was good from 33 yards out, and the Panthers led 10-7 with 9:02 left in the half. Rodgers was intercepted on the second play of the next drive, as he tried to throw off-balance to Adams, and CB Daryl Worley picked it off. Carolina took over on its own 39, but Green Bay’s defense responded with a three-and-out, and the Panthers punted. From his own 10, Rodgers hit Adams for 9 yards, and then RB Aaron Jones scooted through a hole for 23 yards to the Green Bay 42. Jones broke off another run for 20, but Rodgers threw incomplete to Allison on third-and-9 from the Carolina 37. The Packers tried to draw the Panthers offside and took a delay of game before punting. P Justin Vogel’s punt was downed at the Carolina 5. On third-and-7, Newton scrambled for the first down, barely reaching the marker. On the ensuing third-and-9, LB Blake Martinez nearly intercepted a pass over the middle for McCaffrey, and the Panthers punted. After a 13-yard return by WR Trevor Davis, the Packers took over on their own 42 with 1:55 left in the half. Rodgers hit Adams for 13 and TE Richard Rodgers for 9 to start the drive. After Williams plowed ahead for 3 and a first down, a scrambling Rodgers flipped the ball to Cobb, who dodged tacklers all the way for a 33-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left. K Mason Crosby’s PAT put the Packers up, 14-10.
Third quarter: The Panthers started the second half with a 19-yard pass to Funchess, and the Packers gave up a first down on third-and-4 when DT Mike Daniels jumped offside. After consecutive 5-yard runs by McCaffrey and Newton, the QB found a wide-open Olsen behind the defense for a 30-yard TD, and the Panthers were back in front. On the second play of the ensuing drive, Rodgers tried to go deep over the middle to Cobb, but it was underthrown and picked off by S Colin Jones. Panthers LB Thomas Davis threw an illegal blindside block on Adams on the return, and Adams was slow to get up. After the penalty, Carolina took over at midfield. Newton hit Olsen for 12 yards and then ran for 8 more before RB Fozzy Whittaker picked up the first down at the Green Bay 26. A 10-yard pass to Olsen put the ball in the red zone, and CB Damarious Randall broke up a pass to Funchess in the end zone, setting up third-and-6 from the 12. S Jermaine Whitehead interfered with WR Russell Shepard, giving the Panthers first-and-goal from the 9. On the next play, Newton’s pass to the back of the end zone for WR Damiere Byrd between two defenders was deflected and caught by Byrd but initially ruled incomplete, out of bounds. The Panthers challenged, and upon review, it was ruled Byrd’s backside apparently came down in bounds before he rolled onto the end zone, giving Carolina the touchdown. Gano’s PAT made it 24-14 Panthers with 7:20 left in the quarter. Rodgers was intercepted for a third time, this time on third-and-10 as he tried to go deep to WR Jordy Nelson. Again, the pass was underthrown, and CB James Bradberry hauled it in at the Carolina 26. Green Bay’s defense responded with a three-and-out, though, as Clark sacked Newton on third down, and the Panthers punted. The Packers got a first down on an 8-yard run by Williams and a 5-yard pass to Nelson. A 9-yard pass to WR Geronimo Allison set up third0-and-1 from the Carolina 35, but Williams was stopped for no gain on an outside pitch. Rodgers ran a read-option keeper on fourth down to move the chains. Rodgers scrambled 12 yards for a first down on the 16, and a 6-yard pass to Allison set up third-and-4 from the 10, but Rodgers pass for Allison bounced short. Crosby was good from 28 yards out, and the Packers pulled within 24-17 with 1:23 left in the period. The Packers’ fourth offside penalty of the game started Carolina’s next drive, and then Newton hit Olsen for 20 yards, followed by a 15-yard run by McCaffrey to the Green Bay 35.
Fourth quarter: A 7-yard pass to Olsen for a first down at the Green Bay 25 started the final period. On third-and-8 from the 23, Newton found Olsen again for 10 yards to the 13. On the next snap, he hit Byrd on a slant for the touchdown between CB Josh Hawkins and S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and the Panthers led 31-17 with 12:24 left. Passes of 4 yards to Cobb and 6 yards to Jones picked up one first down. After a 7-yard sack, Rodgers hit Nelson for 17 yards and another first down. Jones ran for 4 and Rodgers scrambled for 8 for a first down on the Carolina 43. An incomplete pass to Cobb on third down brought up fourth-and-5 from the 38, and the Packers went for it. Rodgers scrambled out of the pocket and hit Cobb for 12 yards to stay alive. On the next third down, Rodgers was sacked for a 9-yard loss, bringing up fourth-and-14 from the 30. Rodgers was sacked again, this time by DEs Julius Peppers and Mario Addison, and the Packers turned the ball over on downs with 5:41 left. The Packers got it back again and Rodgers hit TE Richard Rodgers for 35 yards to the Carolina 35. Cobb picked up 9 on a swing pass, and Williams moved the chains. Rodgers then hit Rodgers again for a 24-yard touchdown right down the middle, and the Packers were within 31-24 with 2:43 left, but with no timeouts. McCaffrey failed to recover Green Bay’s onside kick, and Packers S Marwin Evans recovered at the Green Bay 48. Rodgers hit Rodgers for 8 yards, and a toss to Nelson picked up 6 more at the two-minute warning. Allison caught a slant over the middle and fumbled, the ball getting punched out by Bradberry. S Mike Adams recovered for Carolina with 1:48 left, and the turnover stood upon replay review.
NFC NORTH DIVISION STANDINGS - WEEK FIFTEEN
X-Minnesota 11   3   0   .786   343  242
Detroit      8   6   0   .571   358  339
GREEN BAY    7   7   0   .500   309  333
Chicago      4  10   0   .286   234  294
X - Clinched Division Title             

SATURDAY DECEMBER 16TH
DETROIT 20, Chicago 10 - Jim Caldwell cringes at the mere mention of the playoffs. The Detroit Lions' head coach doesn't want his team to think about the postseason, even though they moved closer to a berth on Saturday. Matthew Stafford tossed two touchdown passes and the Lions kept their playoff hopes alive with a 20-10 victory over the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. The Lions (8-6) need to defeat Cincinnati and Green Bay in the final two weeks of the regular season to have any realistic chance of reaching the postseason. "That's not our focus. We don't talk about that stuff," he said. "Our focus is on one thing -- Cincinnati. That's it." Stafford completed 25 of 33 passes for 237 yards, but the Lions mainly relied on their defense. They intercepted Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky three times in the second half and limited Chicago to 43 rushing yards on 15 carries. The Bears gashed Detroit's run defense for 222 yards in their first meeting this season. "Our defense played incredible today," Stafford said. "You go out there and get those turnovers, that's what we feed off of on offense, more chances. They got the turnovers and then just stopping that run game. That's as good a run game as we face all year. I know our guys were looking forward to the challenge and they stood up there and shut them down." Eric Ebron caught five passes for 33 yards and a score for the Lions, while Marvin Jones caught three passes for 85 yards. Darius Slay intercepted two passes to lead the defense. "Everybody (knows) this time of the year, every game counts in this league and they're all big," Stafford said. "There's something about December football. People know the regular season is closing down. You've got to go out there and play well." Trubisky completed 31 of 46 passes for a career-high 314 yards and a touchdown but that was offset by the turnovers. "We've got complete confidence in him," Bears coach John Fox said. "Sometimes quarterbacks have those days. He'll have better days. It wasn't all on him. We just didn't play well enough." Chicago's Jordan Howard, who entered the game with 1,032 rushing yards, was limited to 37 yards on 10 carries. He also caught four passes for 26 yards for the Bears (4-10). Kendall Wright hauled in seven passes for 81 yards. The Bears were penalized 13 times for 97 yards. "We just didn't start fast," Fox said. "We had penalties, particularly on offense, to spot them 13 points in the first half. The guys battled and got semi-back into it but too little, too late." Slay intercepted a Trubisky pass in the opening minute of the second half. That gave Detroit a short field and it cashed in on Stafford's 8-yard touchdown pass to Ebron for a 20-3 lead. The Bears drove inside Detroit's 10 early in the fourth, only to have Trubisky get picked off again by safety Quandre Diggs in the end zone. Trubisky completed a 9-yard scoring pass to Benny Cunningham with 2:32 remaining. He picked off again by Slay on Chicago's last possession. The Lions led 13-3 at halftime. Detroit settled for a pair of Matt Prater field goals from 48 and 31 yards out to grab the early lead. Midway through the second quarter, Stafford rolled out and hit TJ Jones on a third-down pass from 3 yards out for the game's first touchdown. Jones' only other career touchdown came against San Francisco on Dec. 27, 2015, during his rookie season. The score was set up by Stafford's 58-yard heave to Marvin Jones. Chicago's Tarik Cohen had an 89-yard kick return wiped out by a holding penalty. Another holding penalty pushed the Bears out of field-goal range late in the half. The Bears would have been shut out in the half if not for Theo Riddick's fumble at his 27 in the closing seconds. Mike Nugent drilled a 41-yard field goal with two seconds left.
SUNDAY DECEMBER 17TH
MINNESOTA 34, Cincinnati 7 - While his former team and mentor were on the other sideline with their futures looking cloudy, Mike Zimmer had his Minnesota Vikings looking like a Super Bowl contender. With Zimmer's defense providing a dominating effort, two long-time friends were leading their teams on very divergent paths. Case Keenum passed for 236 yards and two touchdowns, and Minnesota's defense dominated Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals in a 34-7 win on Sunday. Latavius Murray added 76 yards rushing and a touchdown for Minnesota (11-3), which clinched the NFC North with its ninth win in the past 10 games. "I know being a division champion isn't the final goal, but it's important to go out and win 11 games, win your division, get a chance to get in the playoffs and then go from there," Zimmer said. Cincinnati was listless in front of a deafening U.S. Bank Stadium after ESPN's Adam Schefter reported before the game that head coach Marvin Lewis plans to step down after the season. Lewis has spent 15 years as the Bengals coach, going 123-112-3 as the all-time winningest coach in team history, but with losses in all seven playoff games. After the game, Lewis said the report was inaccurate. "It's nothing that's changed since August," Lewis said. "It's just speculation people keep throwing out there, and it makes... we're all wasting time talking about it." Lewis added: "I have not made any decisions about anything, I've told you how many times." Lewis said he talked to his team about the report before the game and felt the report of his leaving didn't affect the team. Dalton was 11-of-22 passing for 113 yards and two interceptions, and was replaced by backup AJ McCarron in the fourth quarter. The Bengals (5-9) were limited to 46 yards rushing in their third straight loss. Giovani Bernard had 14 carries for 30 yards and converted a 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. "It's the most disappointed I've been in the last couple years," said receiver A.J. Green, who finished with two catches on four targets for 30 yards. "It's been a tough season." Brian Robison had two of the Vikings' three sacks on Sunday, and Eric Kendricks returned a first-quarter interception for a touchdown. Minnesota held Cincinnati to 161 yards and 1 of 13 on third down. "It does feel good, but we understand this is part of a bigger picture," Robison said. "This is the start. We're not finished." The Vikings left little doubt in Sunday's outcome. They drove 75 yards in nine plays on the opening drive, which was capped by Murray's 1-yard touchdown run. Minnesota had three plays of at least 20 yards on the drive. On Cincinnati's second possession, Kendricks had his second career interception return for a touchdown and the first defensive touchdown by the Vikings this season for a 14-0 lead. The Bengals failed to convert a first down in the first quarter, their third straight game with zero first downs in a single quarter. Minnesota held Cincinnati to 42 net yards in the first half, the fewest for a Vikings opponent since 2010. "It's a good feeling," Minnesota defensive tackle Linval Joseph said of limited the Bengals in the first half. "The best feeling is a win and win at a high level in all phases of the game." Keenum was 20-of-23 passing before giving way to Teddy Bridgewater for the team's first drive of the fourth quarter. It was Bridgewater's first appearance in a game since a devastating knee injury before the first game of last season. A fan favorite, he received a standing ovation from the home crowd. Bridgewater was 0 of 2, with an interception that went off running back Jerick McKinnon's hands. "It's just a great feeling," Bridgewater said. "You have a group of men in this locker room who uplifted their brother throughout a hard time in his life. To see them so supportive of me, it motivated me. Just a great experience, I'm glad I was able to experience it with this group of men in this locker room and we were able to clinch the division."
Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers scrambles against the Carolina Panthers during the first half (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Green Bay Packers' Davante Adams (17) catches a touchdown pass against the Carolina Panthers during the first half (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Green Bay Packers' Randall Cobb (18) stretches over the goal line for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers during the first half (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Carolina Panthers (10-4) 31, Green Bay Packers (7-7) 24
Sunday December 17th 2017 (at Carolina)