While their latest win came with some controversy, the Carolina Panthers continue to pile up victories.
Cam Newton's play is a big reason why.
Newton tries to lead visiting Carolina to a franchise record-tying seventh consecutive win Sunday and first in five tries against the Miami Dolphins.
After pulling out a gritty 10-9 win at San Francisco in Week 10, the Panthers (7-3) beat New England 24-20 on Monday night behind what coach Ron Rivera called "one of the best games" of Newton's career. The third-year quarterback, who threw for 209 yards and three touchdowns, capped the go-ahead 13-play, 83-yard drive with a 25-yard TD pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with 59 seconds remaining.
Carolina survived a scare at the end after a flag for defensive pass interference was picked up on the game's final play with the Patriots in the red zone.
"Cam did the things he needed to do in terms of putting us in position to win that football game," Rivera said of Newton, who added a game-high 62 rushing yards. "He made a lot of great decisions and made some really great throws. I think that had a lot to do with his maturing that we have talked about all along."
The former Heisman Trophy winner has recorded 13 total TDs - three on the ground - during the six-game winning streak. He has three turnovers in that span after having six during Carolina's 1-3 start.
"It's just fantastic, just watching Cam grow, watching him lead this team, watching him go 83 yards," wideout Steve Smith said. "You hear all about statistics, about other guys having game-winning drives. Now Cam has his game-winning drive against a big team, against a worthy opponent. Just watching the young man grow - I just saw that young, 24-year-old Cam Newton just chipping away."
While Newton has dominated the headlines, Carolina's defensive efforts have proven just as impressive. Led by defensive end Charles Johnson and linebacker Luke Kuechly, the Panthers rank first in the NFL in scoring defense with 13.5 points allowed per game.
Johnson, who is tied for ninth in the league with 8 1/2 sacks, won't be available, though, after spraining his knee against the Patriots.
"It's not about me," Newton said. "People want to keep making it about myself and the plays that I made. I couldn't have done it without the guys that gave me the opportunity to make the play. It's not a one-man show, by far."
The Panthers haven't won seven straight since Dec. 22, 2002-Oct. 12, 2003. They also won their final seven regular-season games in 1996, their second year in the league.
Carolina now goes for its first win over Miami, which is 4-0 in the series. The Dolphins (5-5), though, aren't putting too much stock in those results as they prepare for their first game against Newton.
"He can make all the throws, that's not an issue with him. And then, he's got the ability to extend plays," coach Joe Philbin told the Dolphins' official website. "He's playing very, very well and we're going to need to be at the top of our game from a defensive perspective to contain him."
After dropping five of six, Miami got back on track with a much-needed 20-16 win over San Diego last Sunday. Ryan Tannehill threw for 268 yards and a touchdown as the Dolphins moved into a tie with the New York Jets for the AFC's second wild-card spot.
"We're fighting through this," tackle Tyson Clabo said of the controversy surrounding Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. "Someone's got to get that last wild-card spot. Why not us?"
While NFL special investigator Ted Wells has been questioning players, coaches and staff this week regarding Martin's allegations that he was harassed by teammates, Miami is doing its best to keep its focus on the field.
"No one could have predicted all these things that happened," said cornerback Brent Grimes, who has two interceptions in the last three games. "We've just got to keep playing hard and not pay any attention to any distractions that might be out there."
Miami has given up an AFC-worst 152.3 rushing yards per game over the past four weeks and is 24th in the NFL with 10 rushing TDs allowed.
Carolina has won eight straight dating to last season when Newton scores on the ground, including all four games in 2013.
While the Dolphins are unbeaten when holding opponents to 20 points or fewer, they are 1-5 in their other six contests. The Panthers are averaging 27.3 points during their win streak.
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