The following play, described by enthusiastic Panther cornerback Josh Norman, ultimately didn't make the final cut. But it was interesting.
The way Norman sees it, the Panthers knocking Cleveland rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel out of the game on Dec.21st nearly ruined Carolina's season. Manziel, in other words, nearly wrecked the Panthers' year by getting hurt.
Needing to beat Cleveland at home to make the playoffs, the Panthers' Colin Jones and Luke Kuechly combined on a hit of Manziel early in the second quarter on a designed run by Manziel. Manziel tried to get up, couldn't (you can see him reaching for his leg in this picture from The Observer's Jeff Siner, which shows the aftermath of the tackle) and left the game with a hamstring injury. Brian Hoyer -- a player Norman considers a far better quarterback -- replaced Manziel and nearly led the Browns to a win.
"We were [unhappy] that he didn't stay in," Norman said of Manziel, who ended up 3-for-8 for 32 yards. "It was like, 'Oh, ----, now we've got a better quarterback.'"
Hoyer threw an 81-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter that put Cleveland ahead, 13-10. If the Browns had held on, Carolina would have finished 6-9-1 and New Orleans would have won the NFC South. Instead, Carolina got a late touchdown on Cam Newton's nine-yard pass to Jonathan Stewart (which did make the "top 10" cut). But Norman said the outcome never would have been in doubt and that the Panthers would have won much more easily had Manziel not been knocked out of the game.
"If he [Manziel] had stayed in, it would been a nightmare," Norman said. "His numbers would have been horrible. The best thing that happened to him was getting hurt. That was going to get ugly real quick."