A team walked away from Sunday's clash of the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots at 3-1. It just wasn't the team most expected.
Graham Gano knocked down a 48-yard field goal as time expired and Cam Newton accounted for four touchdowns, helping lead the Panthers to a 33-30 win over New England in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Newton, who threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns, spearheaded a 10-play, 46-yard drive to set up the game-winning field goal. He also became the first quarterback in NFL history to have 50 rushing touchdowns after a seven-yard scamper that made it 29-16 in the fourth quarter.
After the score, Newton stoically raised his fist—adding his name to the ever-growing list of players who have engaged in a symbolic protest on the field. Newton told reporters Wednesday:
"The message is unity for me, black, white, different minorities around America. That's my message. I want everybody to come together. We get nowhere separated. People feeling oppressed and people that are rich looking down on other people, you don't get nowhere with that. We all are created equal.
"We need to find some kind of way to come together to make the situation better. Because where we're going now, it's not healthy at all."
Panthers players met with owner Jerry Richardson this week and expressed their concern about potential consequences of on-field protests. Richardson is one of the league's most powerful owners and made a statement Monday essentially saying politics should stay out of sports.
No players from the Patriots or Panthers knelt before the game.
New England, much as it did last week against the Houston Texans, played inconsistent football for three quarters before turning it on down the stretch. The Patriots scored on each of their final two drives to come back from a 14-point deficit and force Newton's winning drive.
Tom Brady threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns but was mostly held to underneath checkdowns. A 43-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski and a 26-yarder to Chris Hogan were the Patriots' only plays of 20 or more yards. Running back James White caught a team-high 10 passes, but they amounted to just 47 yards.
Gronkowski led all Patriots with 80 yards receiving.
Newton's 316 yards through the air meant all four quarterbacks that have faced the Patriots this season has gone over the 300 mark. New England allowed opposing quarterbacks to hit the 300-yard mark just three times in all of 2016. Now with a 2-2 record, the secondary's issues are the Patriots' primary culprit; they've allowed at least 33 points in three of their first four games.
Kelvin Benjamin, who played despite being on the injury report with a bum knee, led the Panthers' effort with a 104-yard outing. Devin Funchess also hauled in seven passes for 70 yards and two scores for the first multi-touchdown game of his career.
New England will look to get back above .500 in a Thursday night clash at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Panthers travel to Detroit to play the Lions Sunday.