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Taylor-Made: Folk-Hero Heinicke Tops Cam Newton; Washington 27, Panthers 21

This was billed at “Rivera vs. Newton.” It reality, it was much more than that.

It was an easy - and maybe even lazy - journalistic trap in which to fall.

"Ron Rivera vs. Cam Newton!'' "Riverboat Ron Returns to Carolina!'' "Familiarity Breeds ...

Media Cliches.

The reality of Sunday's NFL Week 11 meeting between coach Rivera's Washington Football Team and the Panthers franchise that once booted both of its Super Bowl heroes, Rivera and Newton, only to mea-culpa its way to bringing the QB back off the street a week ago?

One of these two mediocre programs would keep alive its chance for the third wild-card spot in the NFC. And it would take the efforts dozens of guys to make it happen.

Washington 27, Carolina 21 means the better "dozens of guys'' .....

Play for Washington.

Newton, the former NFL MVP who subbed in for Charlotte last week and started here, said before the game, "I refuse for the narrative to be about two people when it’s about 106 people.''

He was right.

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Newton (two passing TDs and one more rushing) had his moments.

But those "dozens of guys''?

This was, one way or another, going to also be about WFT QB Taylor Heinicke, who entered having thrown nine interceptions in as many games this season and ranks 27th in QBR (42.4). ... but who was an inspiration here, with a series of gutsy darts for throws and darting runs, in the end leading to a field goal with 4:13 left in the game that held up for the win.

It was also going to be about Antonio Gibson, the WFT running back who was to have a "Christian McCaffrey-like'' season. But both of them have been limping around all year, so neither of them have experienced that - until Sunday. McCaffrey recored a late TD catch on a throw from Newton, and Gibson was one of five WFT players who carried the ball, offering some balance with a passing game that included TD catches from Cam Sims and Terry McLaurin.

And maybe most of all, it was going to have to be about defense. 

The Panthers entered with the No. 1-ranked pass defense in the NFL while also also holding opposing backs to a league-low 24.4 receiving yards per game. 

Washington's defense, on the other hand, entered the season thinking it might be the unit with the glitzy stats. But the WFT (4-6) has combined lackluster play with injuries - Chase Young is out for the year and Montez Sweat for the month -  and suddenly this defense has dropped from sixth in sacks (in 2020) to 20th.

Newton and McCaffrey were involved in some trickery ...

But with 2:53 remaining, the WFT defense recorded a fourth-down stop and was able to hang on from there, adding a field goal with 1:50 left for the final margin. ... and for proof that it took more than just two headliners to make it a game.

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