Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Patriots.
A QUARTERBACK : Cam Newton came of age on Monday night, with his first signature fourth-quarter comeback against one of the league's premiere teams. Newton directed the game-winning touchdown drive, threw for 209 yards and three touchdowns, and finished as the game's leading rusher with 62 yards on seven carries.
C RUNNING BACKS : It's tough to put too much blame on the backs, who didn't have much room to run against the league's 30th-ranked rushing defense. DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert combined for 16 rushes for 41 yards -- an average of 2.6 yards per carry. Williams added two catches for 11 yards.
B+ RECEIVERS : The Panthers' top three receivers all stepped up at various times. Steve Smith won his physical matchup with Aqib Talib, catching a season-long 42-yarder to set up a score. Brandon LaFell had a team-high seven catches for 59 yards and a TD, while Ted Ginn Jr. caught one pass -- the game-winning, 25-yard TD.
C- OFFENSIVE LINE : The Panthers unveiled an unbalanced look on several plays, but never got much movement up front (see above). The line protected Newton pretty well, giving up three sacks. But the biggest runs came on Newton scrambles, with little or nothing in the traditional running game.
C DEFENSIVE LINE : Defensive end Charles Johnson left the game early in the second half when tackle Marcus Cannon leg-whipped him in the right knee. DE Greg Hardy had a sack early in the game, but he did not have a huge impact. The line was getting knocked off the ball in the second half when the Pats went to RB LeGarrette Blount.
A LINEBACKERS : Outside linebacker Thomas Davis was all over the field, finishing with 17 tackles, one off his career high. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly had 12 tackles, but was initially flagged for pass interference on the final play of the game. Kuechly made contact with Rob Gronkowski, but officials ruled the ball was not catchable.
C DEFENSIVE BACKS : A big part of the Patriots' game plan clearly was to pick on undrafted cornerback Melvin White, who had three penalties and was beaten on several passes by various receivers. But safety Robert Lester -- another undrafted rookie -- bailed out Kuechly (and White) with a game-ending interception in the end zone.
C SPECIAL TEAMS : Punter Brad Nortman had a short punt that gave the Pats a short field and set up their go-ahead field goal. Ginn failed to get to the 20 on a couple of kickoff returns he brought out of the end zone. Graham Gano, who had his first miss last week at San Francisco, started back on another streak with a 43-yard field goal in the first half.
A COACHING : Ron Rivera won another close game, improving to 4-14 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Mike Shula had several nice calls on the final drive, including a short pass to Ginn that allowed the speedy wideout to make yards after the catch and turn it into the game-winning score.