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Little-Big Plays: Carolina Panthers at New York Giants Week 15

Highlighting the little plays that made all the difference between winning and losing in Carolina's 38-35 victory over the New York Giants.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Little-big plays are the plays that may not stand out in the box score, but go a long way to winning – or losing –a game. Little-big plays extend drives that lead to scores, turn field goals into touchdowns, or flip field position. On the other hand, negative little-big plays can abruptly end drives and take points off the board.

Here are the little-big plays that helped the Carolina Panthers beat the New York Giants in Week 15 of the 2015 NFL season.

Positive plays from Panther players are marked with a plus-sign and negative plays with a minus-sign, with the players' cumulative season totals for each type of play listed by his name. For example, if on the year Cam Newton has posted six positive little-big plays and three negative plays, it would show (+6, -3).

1st Quarter

13:43 – Panthers 0, Giants 0. NYG ball 1st-and-10 on NYG 48. On the game’s opening series, Odell Beckham Jr. drew a 24-yard pass interference call against Luke Kuechly (+6, -2) on 3rd-and-6 to extend New York’s drive. On the very next play, Beckham blew past Josh Norman on a deep post and was wide open. Eli Manning delivered a perfect pass to Beckham for a surefire TD, but Beckham simply dropped the ball. The drive sputtered from there and the Giants were forced to punt. Beckham’s drop had a huge impact in the early moments of this game.

11:26 – Panthers 0, Giants 0. NYG ball 3rd-and-10 at the 50. After a Panthers three-and-out, the Giants started their second drive at the 50. On 3rd-and-10 Shane Vereen caught a pass out of the backfield with Luke Kuechly in one-on-one coverage. Kuechly (+7, -2) caught Vereen and dropped him with a nice open field tackle to limit the gain to nine yards. The Giants elected to punt with 4th-and-1 from the Carolina 41 thanks to Luke’s clutch tackle.

13:43 – Panthers 0, Giants 0. CAR ball 1st-and-10 at the 50. Cam Newton (+20, -14) kept the ball on a read option, went up the middle, cut right, and exploded for a 47-yard run down to the 3. Great blocking by Ryan Kalil (+7, -4) and Andrew Norwell (+6, -0) opened the hole at the line, and Devin Funchess (+5, -2) sustained a good downfield block as well. Three plays later Newton hit Ted Ginn for a TD and a 7-0 Panthers lead.

4:06 – Panthers 7, Giants 0. NYG ball 3rd-and-10 on NYG 31. On 3rd-and-10 Hakeem Nicks made a great catch on a perfect pass from Eli Manning along the sideline to get just enough for a first down to extend the drive. Four plays later, a wide-open Rueben Randle scored on a 27-yard reception to tie the game at 7-7. On Randle’s score, Courtland Finnegan (+0, -1) appeared to blow his coverage, releasing Randle into open space.

0:36 – Panthers 7, Giants 7. CAR ball 3rd-and-8 on CAR 27. On 3rd-and-8, Cam (+21, -14) started in shotgun, was flushed right and scrambled 16 yards for a first down. Ed Dickson (+4, -2) gets credit for great blocking. Dickson started by blocking the defensive end, then released to serve as Cam’s one-man convoy. Dickson motioned for Newton to follow him then delivered a downfield block on Jonathan Casillas to spring Cam for the first. The drive ended with a punt, but the first down helped flip field position for Carolina.

2nd Quarter

6:25 – Panthers 7, Giants 7. NYG ball 3rd-and-3 on CAR 48. The Giants converted on 3rd-and-3 on a 13-yard reception to Dwayne Harris down to the Carolina 35, but New York’s Will Tye was flagged for offensive pass interference. The Giants could not convert on 3rd-and-13 and were forced to punt.

4:34 – Panthers 7, Giants 7. CAR ball 3rd-and-10 on CAR 20. On his own 20, Cam was hit as he overthrew Ted Ginn along the right sideline. The ball hit Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie right in the chest, but he dropped the ball. The play was a gift-wrapped pick-six for the Giants. Rodgers-Cromartie had nothing but open field in front of him and would have likely waltzed in for a score, but instead the Panthers were able to punt.

3:37 – Panthers 7, Giants 7. NYG ball 2nd-ard-and-3 on NYG 49. Rashad Jennings was getting gang tackled when Charles Tillman (+3, -5) flew in at the last moment with a textbook "Peanut Punch" to jar the ball loose and force a fumble. Not only did Tillman force the fumble, he recovered it as well.

2:26 – Panthers 7, Giants 7. CAR ball 3rd-and-1 on NYG 37. Three plays after Tillman’s fumble recovery, Carolina faced 3rd-and-1. The Panthers lined up with three tight ends and no wide receivers. The Giants were expecting a run up the gut, but Newton faked the handoff and spun right. All of the Giants linebackers and secondary broke toward Cam to prevent the run as Greg Olsen slipped behind the coverage for an easy 37-yard score. Beautiful play design and call by Mike Shula (+6, -4) to give the Panthers a 14-7 lead.

0:21 – Panthers 14, Giants 7. CAR ball 1st-and-10 on NYG 14. After a Giants punt, Carolina got one final opportunity to score to end the half. With the ball on the New York 17, Devin Funchess (+6, -2) ran a nice skinny post route against veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromatrie, faking left before breaking right to get open in the end zone for a TD. Great route by the rookie and a perfect pass by Newton (+22, -14) gave Carolina a 21-7 halftime lead.

3rd Quarter

11:23 – Panthers 21, Giants 7. CAR ball 2nd-and-9 on NYG 48. Ted Ginn ran a stutter-and-go route against Prince Amukamara and got wide open down the left sideline. Newton delivered a perfect deep pass for what should have been a touchdown, but Ginn dropped the ball yet again. For as many good things as Ginn (+6, -5) does, his huge drops on wide-open, long-bomb touchdowns are simply devastating. The drop was his ninth on the year, which is second most in the NFL. But three plays later, Philly Brown (+1, -1) made a great double move to get open in the end zone, and unlike Ginn, Brown secured the catch for a score. Great route by Brown, great pass by Cam. 28-7 Panthers.

8:44 – Panthers 28, Giants 7. NYG ball 3rd-and-3 on NYG 27. Facing a three-and-out, the Giants set up a bubble screen to the right. Josh Norman (+8, -0) sniffed the play out, broke immediately, and hit Rueben Randle several yards behind the line of scrimmage. Norman didn’t make the tackle, but he blew up the play for a two yard loss, forcing a Giants punt.

5:38 – Panthers 28, Giants 7. CAR ball 3rd-and-Goal on NYG 13. Ted Ginn scored on a 13-yard wide receiver screen thanks to fantastic blocks by Greg Olsen (+14, -4) and a pulling Michael Oher (+4, -2). At 35-7 it looked like the game was over. Oh, how quickly things can change…

3:43 – Panthers 35, Giants 7. NYG ball 4th-and-2 on CAR 45. In what would turn out to be a huge play, Odell Beckham, Jr. converted on 4th-and-2 with a five-yard reception. After the play, the completely frustrated Beckham was flagged for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty for grabbing Josh Norman’s ankle and flinging his leg. It would be one of three personal foul penalties Beckham would draw in the game as he delivered the single most dirty, unprofessional, and out-of-control individual performance I have ever seen in a football game. One of the personal fouls was a deliberate cheap shot to Norman’s head that could have caused serious injury. Both Troy Aikman and Mike Pereira from Fox’s broadcast team wanted Beckham ejected. I will never be able to look at Odell Beckham, Jr. the same again after his deplorable behavior in this game. I will never, ever be able root for this guy. Beckham showed his true colors today, and his true colors are uglier than his hair dye. What a disgrace. But Beckham’s fourth down reception extended a drive that ended with a Will Tye score to narrow the gap to 35-14.

4th Quarter

13:34 – Panthers 35, Giants 14. NYG ball 2nd-and-2 on CAR 38. After Tye’s score, Carolina went three-and-out on a conservative run-run-pass series. The Giants then scored quickly on a four-play drive with a 38-yard Rashad Jennings run straight up the middle. The Giants offensive line just manhandled Carolina’s front seven on the play. What looked like a route just a few minutes earlier was now suddenly 35-21.

11:12 – Panthers 35, Giants 21. CAR ball 3rd-and-7 on NYG 35. Facing 3rd-and-8, Mike Shula (+7, -4) called a perfect draw play for Cam Newton for a 14-yard run up the middle. Great blocking by Andrew Norwell (+7, -0), Ryan Kalil (+8, -4), and Fozzy Whitaker (+1, -0) cleared the space for Newton’s run. Carolina was now in field goal range.

9:00 – Panthers 35, Giants 21. CAR ball 4th-and-5 on NYG 16. Graham Gano lined up for what appeared to be an easy field goal to put the Panthers up by three scores. But Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie came off the edge and timed the snap perfectly to block the field goal. The ball rolled all the way past midfield where New York recovered.

7:43 – Panthers 35, Giants 21. NYG ball 2nd-and-2 on CAR 13. After the blocked field goal, New York was suddenly threatening to score. On second down Eli Manning dropped back to pass and Kawann Short (+10, -1) applied pressure and hit Manning’s arm as the Giants QB forced a deep throw into the end zone. Hakeem Nicks fell down, and Charles Tillman made an easy interception on the fluttering pass. This play should have sealed the game for the Panthers, but…

6:50 – Panthers 35, Giants 21. CAR ball 2nd-and-10 on CAR 20. Just two plays after Tillman’s interception, Cam Newton and rookie Cameron Artis-Payne (+0, -1) had a miscommunication on a read option. Newton tried to hand the ball off to CAP, and CAP thought Newton was going to keep the ball. The fumble was recovered by the Giants at the Carolina 14. Three plays later New York scored on an 8-yard pass to Shane Vereen after Thomas Davis (+10, -3) lost Vereen in coverage, cutting the Panthers lead to 35-28.

5:12 – Panthers 35, Giants 28. CAR ball 2nd-and-10 on CAR 16. With momentum completely shifting to the Giants, the Panthers needed to extend this next drive. But on second down, Mike Remmers (+3, -5) was flagged for a false start, forcing 2nd-and-15. Carolina never recovered from the penalty and was forced to punt on a three-and-out. The momentum shift from the Panthers to the Giants wasn’t a tidal wave at this point. It was a freaking tsunami.

2:55 – Panthers 35, Giants 28. NYG ball 3rd-and-3 on NYG 41. On third down, Cortland Finnegan (+0, -2) ended up in man coverage on Odell Beckham. Beckham ran a simple short crossing route and got two steps on Finnegan. Beckham caught a short pass with Finnegan trailing, then turned up the sideline for a 40-yard catch-and-run down to the Carolina 19. The Giants home crowd was going absolutely berserk. Four plays later, Beckham beat Josh Norman (+8, -1) in man-to-man coverage for a 14-yard touchdown on 4th-and-5. As impossible as it seemed just one quarter earlier, the game was now shockingly tied at 35-35.

0:32 – Panthers 35, Giants 35. CAR ball 2nd-and-10 on NYG 35. The Panthers received the ball with 1:40 remaining in a tied game. After five good, quick gains, Carolina stood on the fringe of field goal range with one timeout remaining. On second down with 32 seconds remaining, Cam Newton (+23, -14) showed why he is the single most difficult player to defend in the NFL and should be the league’s MVP. Newton started from shotgun, got pressured up the middle, and scrambled right. With no receivers open, Cam tucked the ball to run. Giants linebacker Uani Unga was in the flat precisely where Newton was now running. Unga was one-on-one in open space with Newton, and a tackle by Unga would have yielded no gain on the play. But Newton juked right, cut left, and blew past Unga who didn’t even get a hand on Carolina’s QB. Newton turned the broken play into a 10-yard gain to set up a game-winning 43-yard Graham Gano field goal as time expired.

Between Odell Beckham turning into a complete lunatic, the Giants impossible comeback, Cam’s overall brilliance (340 passing yards, 100 rushing yards, and five TDs), and Gano’s clutch game-winning field goal, this is a game that will not be forgotten anytime soon.

Carolina didn’t make it easy, but they got it done yet again.

The Panthers are now 18-0 in their last 18 regular season games going back to last year.

14-0 is a wonderful feeling.

Keep pounding!