NFL essentials from Sunday: Panthers elite?

The Carolina Panthers are in rare air with how long they have stay undefeated, but numerous playoff teams were showcasing their elite players in Week 15.

The Carolina Panthers are just the fourth team in the Super Bowl era to start the season 14-0, with the three previous ones – the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the 2007 New England Patriots and the 2009 Indianapolis Colts – all making it to the Super Bowl.

However, even then the ultimate prize is not a lock. The 1972 Dolphins were the only one of those teams to win the Super Bowl.

Sunday wasn’t as easy for the Panthers, who needed a late field goal to beat the New York Giants 38-35. The Panthers have already secured the NFC South title and a first-round bye in the playoffs (they would have secured home-field throughout the playoff if the Arizona Cardinals had lost on Sunday night, which didn’t happen).

In their win, Cam Newton passed for 340 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 100 yards, becoming the first player in NFL history with at least 300 passing yards, 100 rushing yards and five touchdown passes in a single game.

Newton has 3,402 passing yards and 580 rushing yards this season and is the only player in NFL history to have five different seasons with at least 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards. Newton has accomplished the feat in each of his five years in the league.

Here is how Sunday’s action affected other teams that either made the playoffs or improved their position on Sunday:

The Green Bay Packers clinched a playoff spot with a 30-20 win over the Oakland Raiders.

The Seattle Seahawks also punched their postseason ticket with a 30-13 win over the Cleveland Browns.

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The New England Patriots earned a first-round playoff bye with a 33-16 win over the Tennessee Titans. It is the sixth consecutive season New England has a first-round bye, the longest streak since the current playoff system was implemented in 1990.

The Cincinnati Bengals secured a playoff berth with a 24-14 win over the San Francisco 49ers. It’s the fifth consecutive season the Bengals are in the playoffs, the longest streak in franchise history.

Other essentials from Sunday

  • The Cardinals already secured a playoff spot before Sunday night’s game, but their win over the Philadelphia Eagles clinched the NFC West title.
  • The Seahawks continued their winning connection between QB Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin. Baldwin had two touchdown catches, becoming the third player in NFL history to catch at least two touchdown passes in four consecutive games, joining Cris Carter (1995) and Calvin Johnson (2011). Baldwin has 10 touchdown catches in Seattle’s past four games, tied with Jerry Rice for the most in NFL history in a four-game span.
  • Wilson ended up with three touchdown passes and no interceptions, an NFL-record five consecutive games he has thrown at last three touchdowns and no interceptions.
  • Minnesota Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater is the second quarterback in NFL history to complete at least 85 percent of his passes with four touchdowns passing, one rushing and no interceptions in a single game, joining Cleveland’s Fran Ryan (Dec. 12, 1964). Bridgewater completed 17 of 20 passes for 231 yards in the Vikings’ 38-17 win over the Chicago Bears.
  • Kirk Cousins was nearly as efficient as Bridgewater. Cousins completed 78.6 percent of his passes (22 of 28) for 319 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and rushed for another touchdown in the Washington Redskins’ 35-25 win over the Buffalo Bills.
  • Sunday was the first day in NFL history two quarterbacks (Bridgewater and Cousins) completed 75 percent of their passes with four touchdowns, no interceptions and rushed for a touchdown in a single game.
  • It wasn’t just the six consecutive first-round byes that had the Patriots making NFL history. With a 12-2 record, they are only the second team in NFL history to have six consecutive seasons with at least 12 wins, joining the 2003-09 Indianapolis Colts.
  • Tom Brady was cooking up another one of his own streaks, too. With two touchdown passes, he reached 35 for the season, joining Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with at least four seasons with 35 touchdown passes. They each have four such seasons.
  • The Kansas City Chiefs won their eighth consecutive game with a 34-14 over the Baltimore Ravens, becoming the first team in NFL history to win eight straight immediately following a five-game losing streak in the same season.
  • In that win, they also had a couple of defenders combine for an NFL first. Marcus Peters had a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown and Tyvon Branch had a 73-yard fumble return for a touchdown, the first time in NFL history one team has had an interception return of 90 yards or more for a touchdown and a fumble return of 70 yards or more for a touchdown in the same game.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown had 16 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns, giving Brown 116 catches on the season already. He is only the second player in NFL history with three consecutive seasons with at least 110 catches, joining Wes Welker (2007-09).

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