Panthers' most memorable '13 plays: No. 1

Wrapping up my look at the most memorable plays during the Carolina Panthers 2013 season is a play that many of you voted on for an ESPN poll on the most memorable plays in the team's history.

Drum roll ...

And no surprise.

No. 1

  • The play: (Dec. 22) Cam Newton completes a 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon in the left front corner of the end zone with 23 seconds remaining to cap another comeback victory and put the Panthers in the driver's seat for the NFC South title.

  • The final score: Panthers 17, Saints 13

  • Why it made the list: Had the Panthers lost they wouldn't have won the NFC South and could have missed the playoffs with a loss to Atlanta the following week. An eight-game winning streak and all the memorable comebacks could have been for naught. Throw in that Carolina had been embarrassed by the Saints 31-13 two weeks earlier and leading wide receiver Steve Smith was out with a knee injury -- not to mention the monsoon that slowed both teams -- and you couldn't have scripted much more drama. Then there was Newton. He was having his worst game of the season and so was the Carolina offense which was 0-for-9 on third-down conversions. But as Newton had shown all season, with the game on the line, he was up for the challenge. With 55 seconds remaining, he completed a 37-yard pass over the middle to Ted Ginn Jr. that easily could have been one of the top 10 plays of the season. He completed a 14-yard pass to tight end Greg Olsen to the New Orleans 14 with 28 seconds to play. After spiking the ball to stop the clock, Newton threw a pass into the front left corner of the end zone that Hixon, who came into the game with three catches for 21 yards, cradled as he slid to the ground. After a few heart-stopping moments while officials reviewed the play to make sure it was a catch, the rain-soaked crowd unleashed a celebration that literally made the stadium shake like it never has since the team was formed in 1995. What shouldn't be lost in the moment was that middle linebacker Luke Kuechly had an NFL-record tying 24 tackles, which would have been a candidate for the most memorable performance if I was looking at that category. But the pure drama of Newton's touchdown to Hixon and what it meant for the team made it one of the top moments of this season and any Carolina season. “He struggled today and he knows it," coach Ron Rivera said of Newton. “But when we needed him to make plays, the young man made plays. He got another game-winning drive out of it." The Panthers got an 11th win out of it and a memory that will live on for years to come. "The thing we've proven to ourselves and everybody else is you never stop believing," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "Our team is legitimately good. I don't think we've lucked our way into this."