The 2013Carolina Panthersseason was the franchise's 19th season in the National Football League and the third under head coachRon Rivera. NFL.com ranked the Panthers' schedule as the strongest in the league, with opponents having a combined 2012 record of 138–116–2, along with a winning percentage of .543. After starting the season 1–3, the Panthers went 11–1 the rest of the way, including a club-record eight-game winning streak, securing their first winning season and playoff appearance since 2008, the first winning season under Rivera and the fifth in franchise history. They also notched their third NFC South title, and their fourth division title overall. The Panthers' season ended in the Divisional round of the playoffs with a 23–10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Note: The Panthers did not have selections in the third or seventh rounds. The team traded its third-round selection (No. 74 overall) and a 2012 sixth-round selection to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for the 49ers' 2012 fourth-round selection, as well as its seventh-round selection (No. 219 overall) to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for wide receiverLouis Murphy.
This will be the first season since the team's inaugural season in 1995 that the Panthers will have a station other than Charlotte's longtime Fox affiliate WCCB as their primary station. Fox had purchased CW affiliate WJZY in early 2013, and assumed the Fox affiliation from WCCB in the summer of 2013 (WCCB switched to the CW at that time). WCCB will remain the home to Panthers preseason games for the foreseeable future.
The Panthers opened up the regular season at home in an NFC battle with the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle got on the board first with Steven Hauschka nailing a 27-yard field goal in the second quarter. The Panthers gained the lead when quarterback Cam Newton made a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Steve Smith with 3:13 left in the first half. The Seahawks cut the Panthers lead to one point when Hauschka put through a 40-yard field goal in the third quarter.The Seahawks continued to dominate the second half when quarterback Russell Wilson threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse in the fourth quarter with 10:13 remaining in the game. The Panthers were on the verge of scoring, however running back DeAngelo Williams fumbled the ball at the Seattle 8-yard line with 5:25 left in the game and the Seahawks recovered. Seattle went on to run out the rest of the clock and go to 1–0 while the Panthers fell to 0–1 for the fifth consecutive year. Also, the team dropped to 10–4 when Newton does not have a turnover.
The Panthers came into Buffalo looking to recover from a close loss in Seattle the previous week. In the third quarter Cam Newton threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn, giving the Panthers a 14–6 lead. Fred Jackson then ran in a 4-yard touchdown to put the Bills behind 14–12. The Bills went for the 2-point conversion and converted, putting the score at 14–14. The Panthers would go on to stall twice in the red zone, forcing them to kick field goals to make the score 20–14. After a Dan Carpenter 48-yard kick, the Panthers got the ball back, marched down the field, but were stuffed on 4th and 1 at the Bills' 22. The Panthers decided to kick the field goal to put them up 23–17. EJ Manuel and the Bills would get the ball back and march down the field. With 20 seconds remaining in the game from the Panthers' 31, EJ Manuel threw an interception, but it was called back due to Luke Kuechly, the linebacker, committing pass interference on what would have been a game-sealing interception. With 2 seconds remaining from the Panthers' 2-yard line, Manuel hit wide receiver Stevie Johnson for the score. With the loss, the Panthers would fall to 0–2 and 3–17 when Newton does has at least a turnover.
At 0–2, the Panthers came onto their home turf desperate for a win. The Panthers romped the Giants (0–3) 38–0 behind seven defensive sacks and the flashy play of offensive weapons like Cam Newton and DeAngelo Williams. This was the largest margin of victory in Panthers history and this gave Giants' head coach Tom Coughlin his largest margin of defeat in his history of coaching the Giants. With the win, the Panthers increased to 1–2 and 4–17 when Newton turns the ball over.
For the first time in franchise history the Panthers scored 30 or more points in four consecutive games, routing NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons 34–10. With the win, Carolina increased to a 5–3 record. The team also improved to 5–18 when Newton turns the ball over.
Putting two of the NFL's best defenses against each other, the game indeed proved to be a defensive battle. The reigning NFC champions San Francisco, coming off a bye, only managed three field goals, partly due to the absence of start wide receiver Michael Crabtree and an early injury to tight-end Vernon Davis, and an interception by Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence in the final minute sealed the 10–9 Carolina statement victory. The Panthers snapped the 49ers' five-game winning streak, extended their own winning streak to five, and further increased their record to 6–3. Also, the team's record when Newton commits at least one turnover increased to 6–18.
With Monday Night Football back in Charlotte for the first time since 2008, it pitted the Panthers against the 7–3 New England Patriots, who were coming back from a bye. Down 17–20 with less than a minute left, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw a 25-yard touchdown to wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr., bringing Carolina up 24–20. The Patriots received the ball back, and with only three seconds remaining, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was intercepted by Panthers safety Robert Lester in the endzone. However, a flag was thrown by back judge Terrence Miles just after the ball was intercepted because Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, the intended target, was wrapped up by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. The officials initially called pass interference on Kuechly. With no time left, this would have resulted in an untimed first-and-goal from the one-yard line. However, after the officials talked it over, they picked up the flag and ruled that the pass was uncatchable due to it being underthrown, and the game ended in a Panthers win. The primetime victory, before the second-largest crowd in franchise history and the largest in Bank of America Stadium history, extended the Panthers' winning streak to six, increased their record to 7–3 and improved to 14–4 when Newton does not turn the ball over.
For the first time this season, the Panthers allowed a touchdown drive in the first quarter, and were down 16–6 at halftime to the 5–5 Miami Dolphins. However, Carolina came back in the second half and ultimately held the Dolphins scoreless. Trailing 13–16 with two minutes remaining, quarterback Cam Newton converted a fourth-and-10 from the Panthers' own 20 with a completion to wide receiver Steve Smith, and a touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen with 43 seconds left won the game for the Panthers, 20–16. Carolina extended their winning streak to seven (tying the franchise record), extended their record to 8–3 and also improved 7–18 when Newton turns the ball over.
With the win, the Panthers broke their franchise record winning their 8th straight game improving to 9–3 in the process giving the team their first winning season since 2008 and also improving to 8–18 when Newton turns the ball over.
Despite sacking Matt Ryan nine times—a single-game franchise record—the Panthers were not assured of a win until the final seconds. With 31 seconds to go and trailing 21–20, the Falcons were driving in hopes of setting up a game-winning field goal. However, center Joe Hawley snapped the ball before Ryan was ready. The ball sailed back 16 yards to the Atlanta 27. Hawley later said that he was distracted by the noise from a large number of Panther fans who made the five-hour drive to Atlanta, and thought Ryan was calling for the ball. With the win, the Panthers clinched the NFC South, the #2 seed and a first-round bye finishing 12-4 in the progess while going 10-18 when Newton turns the ball over. They would sweep the Falcons for the first time since 1997.
The Panthers played at home against the 5th seeded 49ers. The Niners led the majority of the game and eventually won leading to the Panthers' end of the season dropping to 12-5 total. Also, Cam Newton goes 0-1 as a starter for the Panthers in the playoffs while the team goes 10-19 when he turns the ball over.