Cam Newton and the Panthers continue to play their best football down the stretch.
The second-year quarterback threw for 171 yards and a touchdown and ran for 60 yards and another score, and the Carolina Panthers held off the Oakland Raiders 17-6 on Sunday.
The Panthers (6-9) limited the Raiders to 189 total yards and 12 first downs in a game featuring several shoving matches, plenty of heated exchanges and six unnecessary roughness penalties — including one that sidelined Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer for the day.
Even Newton drew a flag after bumping an official with his chest for what he perceived as the latest in a series of late hits by Raiders defenders. Newton was not ejected.
Newton and the Panthers built a 14-3 lead at halftime and let linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive end Greg Hardy do the rest.
Oakland's offense was essentially rendered useless after Hardy delivered a blow to Palmer's back late in the first quarter. Matt Leinart managed only 115 yards passing in three-plus quarters.
Newton accounted for 231 of the 271 yards for the Panthers, who have now won four of their last five games under embattled coach Ron Rivera. It's unclear if that will be enough to save his job.
Rivera is 12-19 in two years as Carolina's coach.
Oakland (4-11), losers of seven of eight, was held to 47 yards rushing on 22 carries. The longest play was a 22-yard reception by third-string quarterback Terrelle Pryor on a trick play.
The Panthers had been starting games fast of late, scoring on their first possession in each of their previous four games.
They appeared to make it five straight when DeAngelo Williams scampered 76 yards around left end for an apparent 76-yard touchdown run. But a holding call on receiver Steve Smith nullified the play and the drive stalled.
Smith made up for it on the next drive.
After a 29-yard scramble by Newton for a key first down, the second-year quarterback was flushed out of the pocket and lofted a 23-yard touchdown pass to Smith. The veteran receiver broke off his route and headed up the field after seeing Newton pressured from the pocket.
Palmer left the game late in the first quarter with a back injury.
After being flushed from the pocket, Palmer set up to throw when Hardy came barreling into him from behind and delivered a vicious blow to the middle of his back. Hardy was flagged for unnecessary roughness and the Raiders received an automatic first down, but lost Palmer for the game.
Palmer threw some on the sideline in the third quarter, but did not return.
Hardy's hit on Palmer was the first in a flurry of penalties by both sides for late hits on receivers and quarterbacks.
From there, Carolina seized the momentum.
After a 21-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly intercepted a Leinart pass and returned it 25 yards to the Oakland 29. Four plays later Newton scored on a 3-yard touchdown to give Carolina a 14-3 lead just before halftime.
The pushing, shoving and taunting continued into the third quarter. The quarter ended when Newton's NFL-long streak of 176 passes without an interception was snapped when Miles Burris picked him off deep in Carolina territory setting the Raiders up at the Panther 19.
It appeared the Raiders would cut the lead to four, but a 4-yard scoring run by Darren McFadden was called back because of a holding penalty, and they settled for a short field goal by Janikowski.
Down by eight, the Raiders tried to mount one last drive, but it stalled when Hardy tipped a Leinart screen pass on fourth-and-4 at the Carolina 24 with five minutes left in the game.
The Panthers put the game away on a 51-yard field goal by Graham Gano with 2:46 left in the game.
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