NFL: Panthers 28, Texans 13
By Chris Duncan
HOUSTON ó With all eyes on Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers nturned to a trick play to stretch their big lead in Houston on Sunday.
Newton took the snap, slipped the ball to Richie Brockel, and the tight end swung around the left side for a touchdown late in the first half of Carolinaís 28-13 victory that snapped the Texansí seven-game winning streak.
Newton also threw two touchdown passes and outplayed opposing rookie quarterback T.J. Yates. The Panthers (5-9) built a 21-0 halftime lead, then ended Houstonís second-half rally when linebacker James Anderson intercepted Yates in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter.
But the talk in the Panthersí locker room after the game swirled around the bold gimmick play from the Texans 7 in the final minute of the half.
ěThe offensive coaches have basically been working on different things and things that we can mix with what we do on offense,î Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. ěIím not sure which one of our guys came up with this one, but the timing of it was perfect.î
Houstonís focus on Newton, the top overall pick, created the opportunity to run the play.
ěThe defense is so keyed up on him and worried about him making the play,î Brockel said, ěthey sometimes forget about other things and their assignments.î
By then, Carolina already had the Texans (10-4) on their heels.
Houston looked emotionally flat after clinching the AFC South last weekend, and its top-ranked defense appeared vulnerable without coordinator Wade Phillips, whoís on medical leave after undergoing kidney and gall bladder surgery this week.
Linebackers coach Reggie Herring made the defensive calls on Sunday, but the Texans could not generate a turnover in a game for the first time this season.
ěI just think the overall theme of the day was, we gave up big plays and there were discipline parts of the game that we were not very disciplined on, as we have been throughout the year,î Herring said. ěWe obviously didnít execute very well.î
Houston gave up only 316 yards, but Carolina converted two Texans turnovers into 14 points.
Arian Foster fumbled on the second snap, and Newton threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith less than 3 minutes into the game. It was the third fumble lost by Foster this year, and Ben Tate came in for Houstonís second series.
Yates completed his first seven passes, but the Texans struggled to sustain drives against the leagueís 24th-ranked defense.
Newton, meanwhile, completed passes at key moments, despite finishing with a season-low total in yards passing.
He shrugged off two early sacks to make pinpoint passes to Smith and Greg Olsen for big gains then found Jeremy Shockey for a 9-yard touchdown pass with 12:19 left in the half.
Newton has avoided a turnover in three of four games since throwing four interceptions in a loss to Detroit on Nov. 20.
ěI think thatís the key to success for the Panthers offensively,î Newton said. ěI look at other quarterbacks across the league and when they do a good job of protecting the football thatís just the key to the win.î
Yates, in his third career start, made his first key mistake after getting Houston across midfield in the second quarter. Carolina linebacker Jordan Senn intercepted his pass to Kevin Walter, and Newton calmly guided the Panthers down the field again.
The Texansí offense looked better in the third quarter, twice advancing into Carolina territory.