Carolina's last-minute scoring drive to end the first half gave the Miami Dolphins a taste of what was to come.
The Panthers covered 52 yards in the final 61 seconds before halftime to kick a field goal and cut their deficit to 10 points.
Then came the real dramatics: an 80-yard march on their final possession that included a fourth-and-10 conversion as the Panthers rallied past Miami 20-16 Sunday.
Those two drives accounted for almost half of Carolina's 295 yards. They endured an uncharacteristically slow start and trailed for 50 minutes, but still extended their winning streak to seven games, the Panthers' longest since 2003.
Carolina (8-3) rallied with a late scoring drive for the second time in a week to remain one game behind NFC South leader New Orleans. Miami (5-6) is one of six teams tied in the race for the final AFC wild-card spot.
Here are five things we learned from the game:
NEWTON CAN SHAKE OFF A BIG HIT: Cam Newton bit his tongue when he was hit on the Panthers' opening series, which may explain his erratic play in the early going.
"The very first play he took a very big hit, and it took him a little bit to get refocused," coach Ron Rivera said. "Sometimes that does that — it spooks the quarterback a little bit. And I think our offensive line was spooked a little bit, too."
In the second half, Newton began to settle into a groove. He finished an 83-yard drive by scoring on a 5-yard keeper, then celebrated with a dance tribute to LeBron James, mindful he was in the Miami Heat star's area code.
"Three-oh-five is where he reigns supreme with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh," Newton said. "I'm big fans of those guys."
With the Panthers at their own 20, trailing 16-13, Newton kept their final possession alive by throwing a 19-yard completion to Steve Smith. His 1-yard scoring pass to Greg Olsen with 43 seconds left gave Carolina the win.
"It may not be pretty," Newton said, "but at the end of the game we get that three-letter word, and that's gorgeous."
DRIVE TO END HALF: Carolina took advantage of Miami's soft coverage at the end of the first half. With two defenders camped out near the goal line, Brandon LaFell turned a short pass into a 29-yard gain to set up a field goal on the next play as time ran out, cutting Miami's lead to 16-6.
"That was really the difference in the game," Olsen said. "That was good just to kind of steal some points there at the end of the half."
WALLACE CAN STILL GET DEEP: With Miami's long passing game ineffective all season, Ryan Tannehill heeded coach Joe Philbin's advice to "let it rip," throwing deep to Mike Wallace four times.
The duo connected for a 53-yard touchdown and a 57-yard completion that set up a field goal. Tannehill also overthrew an open Wallace once, and when he tried a Hail Mary to the $60 million receiver in the final seconds, the pass fell incomplete at the goal line.
Wallace's touchdown in the first period was only his second of the season.
"It felt awesome," he said. "I hadn't been able to score a touchdown in so long. It got the game started. Our team got kind of hyped, so that's always good. We just got to have more of that. I've got to do a better job of making plays."
MORE KUECHLY CONTROVERSY: For the second game in a row, the Panthers' Luke Kuechly made a big play in the end zone that was disputed.
He appeared to make helmet to helmet contact when he broke up a potential touchdown catch by Rishard Matthews, and an official threw a flag, but the referee determined there was no penalty and Miami settled for a field goal and a 16-3 lead.
Kuechly bear-hugged the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski on the final play of the Panthers' victory at New England last Monday.
THE DOLPHINS' DISTRACTION: Miami players said they weren't distracted by the team's bullying scandal, but the case is expected to linger for several weeks.
Tackle Jonathan Martin will likely be interviewed a second time by NFL special investigator Ted Wells, a person familiar with the situation said Sunday. The second interview will likely be in New York City or California the first week in December, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because details about the investigation are confidential.
Martin alleges he was harassed daily by teammates, including Richie Incognito, who has been suspended. Wells spent last week interviewing Dolphins players, coaches and staff in South Florida, and he also met with Incognito.
Wells said his work would continue over the next few weeks on the case.
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