North Carolina Panthers Record
Green Bay came into Charlotte looking for a much-needed victory after their loss to Denver. The game was a 27-7 Panthers blowout in the first half, but came down to the wire as the Packers mounted a 4th quarter comeback, answered only by a single Panthers offensive TD. The last few minutes saw the Packers drive deep into Panthers territory, looking to get a touchdown and a game-tying two-point conversion. However, LB Thomas Davis intercepted an Aaron Rodgers pass on 4th down inside the red zone, ensuring the win for Carolina. With the close win the Panthers improved to 8-0 for the first time in franchise history. They were one of three teams to finish the first half of the season undefeated.
Less than four hours later, with another sold-out crowd mostly wearing a mix of black and blue, the Carolina Panthers routed the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 49–15 en route to Super Bowl 50. The Panthers forced seven turnovers from the Cardinals, six from QB Carson Palmer and one from cornerback Patrick Peterson on a punt return, despite losing Thomas Davis to an arm injury early. Offensively, Cam Newton threw two touchdown passes and ran for another pair. Linebacker Luke Kuechly had both his third pick-six of the year and pick-sixes in consecutive playoff games, while safety Kurt Coleman had two red zone interceptions. Coleman's first pick came the play after Peterson picked off a Newton pass. The Panthers also out gained the Cardinals in total yardage 476-287. In the aftermath of Kuechly's pick-six, with the victory fully secured, the stadium itself began shaking due to the crowd noise and energy. This was noticed on air by Fox Sports' Joe Buck, who, after the cameras showed almost thirty seconds of exuberant Panthers fans dancing in the stands, stated: "This booth is literally bouncing."
After a bye week the Panthers flew to Washington state for their fifth meeting with the Seattle Seahawks in the Rivera/Newton era; the past four meetings were all close, low-scoring games won by Seattle. Challenges started early on game day for the Panthers, as a fire alarm was pulled at 5:40 AM at their hotel. Mere hours later, in front of a capacity crowd at CenturyLink Field, Carolina overcame a slow first three quarters, including giving up a reverse flea flicker TD pass, to stun the Seahawks in the 4th. After coming back from a 14-point deficit (down 20-7 at one point), Carolina's defense managed to stop Seattle's offense. With just over two minutes to play Cam Newton led the offense down the field 80 yards (the fourth time he'd done so in the game) down 23-20. The drive concluded at around half a minute to play, when Newton found TE Greg Olsen wide open in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. Carolina's defense stuffed Seattle's last offensive possession, ending the game. With the surprising win, the Panthers improved to 5-0, their first such start since 2003.
The Panthers came into the Monday night game as one of four undefeated teams in the NFL, while playing their second game in eight days. The team took to the field amid fireworks, as is their custom for prime-time contests. A heavy rain kept up most of the night, which saw both the drenched crowd of over 74,000 stay in their seats and a 23-6 Panther lead dissolve by a 17-point Colts comeback in the 4th. Indianapolis sent the game into overtime with a field goal following a near-pick by Kuechly; the extra period began close to midnight. Each team managed a field goal on their first two possessions. Carolina got a break when Colts QB Andrew Luck threw his third interception, which was picked off by Kuechly on the game's 154th play, according to ESPN play-by-play man Mike Trico. A few plays later, Panthers kicker Graham Gano hit a 52-yard field goal, his longest of the season, to give Carolina the win early Tuesday morning. With the win, the Panthers went 7-0 for the first time in franchise history. Also, Carolina became the last undefeated team in the NFC with the Packers' loss to the Broncos the previous night on Sunday Night Football.
Due to the Falcons' loss to the Buccaneers earlier that same day, the Panthers entered this game having already clinched their third straight NFC South title—becoming the first team in the 2015 season to clinch a playoff berth, as well as the first team to clinch their division that season. Led by Drew Brees and a determined defense, New Orleans fought hard all game, their defense recovering three Panthers turnovers- including the first returned extra point attempt for points in NFL history. In the end, Carolina needed a 4th quarter game-winning touchdown drive from the offense (including a 4th down conversion), and a last-second defensive stand to seal it. With the thrilling win, the Panthers became the 9th team in NFL history to start the season 12–0. They also matched their franchise record for most victories in a season.
One of the longest-lasting criticisms was the 'worst undefeated team' statement, where week after week media outlets called the Panthers the worst undefeated team ever, even while Carolina blew out its opponents. Another long-lasting criticism was the amount of NFL experts and analysts from various sports outlets picking against the Panthers. This was especially true leading up to the playoff games against Seattle and Arizona, despite Carolina's superior regular season record and undefeated record at home.
The Panthers shut out Atlanta 38–0 to move to 13–0. Carolina's defense recorded five sacks and four turnovers- two fumbles and two interceptions- and held Atlanta to 54 total yards rushing. Perhaps the most impressive play of the game was Newton's touchdown pass to Ed Dickson, where Newton managed to fit the ball between multiple defenders' hands and into Dickson's grasp. The victory assured the Panthers of no worse than the second seed in the NFC—and with it, a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. However, the Cardinals' win over the Vikings three days earlier prevented them from also clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Carolina additionally broke the franchise record of most games won in a regular season (12 games) that had been set in 1996, 2008, and 2013, respectively.
The Panthers looked to stay hot and undefeated as they traveled to MetLife Stadium to take on the Giants, led by two-time Super Bowl winning QB Eli Manning and star WR Odell Beckham Jr., who both had strong performances in a Monday Night shootout at Miami a week earlier. Much of the game was overshadowed by Beckham's and Josh Norman's melees throughout the game, which would lead to Beckham being suspended the following week and both players receiving fines. Carolina led 35-7 late in the third quarter, but the Manning-led Giants stormed back with four touchdowns (the last of which was a pass to Beckham) to tie the game with just under two minutes remaining. Carolina responded by putting together a quick drive that culminated in a game-winning field goal on the final play of regulation. With the last-second win, the Panthers moved to 14-0 and set a new record for the most wins to start a season by an NFC team. It also made them the fourth team, along with the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the 2007 New England Patriots, and the 2009 Indianapolis Colts to start a season 14–0 in NFL history.
The Panthers' undefeated season came to an end with a 13–20 loss in Atlanta, dropping their record to 14–1. Carolina started off well with a Newton rushing TD, but Atlanta proved to be too much at home, culminating in a long touchdown pass from Falcons QB Matt Ryan to WR Julio Jones. The Falcons defense swarmed the field all day, as the Panthers couldn't manage a touchdown for the rest of the game. As a result, Atlanta pulled off the upset. Despite the loss, their only one of the regular season, Carolina kept both its playoff spot and division title.
Cam Newton tied former 49ers QB Steve Young for 43 career rushing touchdowns, the defense forced two interceptions from Bucs QB Jameis Winston and versatile special teams player Joe Webb (who also played backup QB and WR) recovered a fumbled punt return. The Panthers capped off their best season in franchise history with a dominating win over Tampa Bay, finishing the regular season with a 15-1 record. It was both the most regular season wins ever recorded in franchise history and the best record in the NFL that year. Just minutes before the game ended, the Seahawks finished off a rout of the Cardinals, giving the Panthers home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
The Panthers' undefeated streak came to an end at the hands of the Falcons in a Week 16 rematch. A week later, however, Carolina routed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to finish 15–1, giving the Panthers home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Throughout the offseason, regular season, and postseason, the 2015-16 Carolina Panthers were subjected to large amounts of criticism from the national media. One of the earliest criticisms, continuing from the previous season, concerned the team's apparent lack of good wide receivers. NBC Sports analyst Rodney Harrison, a former Super Bowl-winning safety, in particular criticized the Panthers throughout the season for what he believed to be a lack of good wide receivers although he acknowledged he did not hate the team as a whole. A major criticism-turned media story during the year was the 'Tennessee Mom letter', where a Tennessee mother wrote to Cam Newton after being offended at his dancing during a week 10 victory against the Titans. She later wrote an apology via the Charlotte Observer days after publishing the original letter online.