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Originally published December 22, 2013 at 9:03 PM | Page modified December 22, 2013 at 9:12 PM

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Carolina clinches playoff berth with victory over New Orleans

Panthers can clinch NFC South and first-round bye with win at Atlanta.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There is a message stitched inside the collar of every Carolina Panthers jersey. Two powerful words.

Keep Pounding.

They were spoken by late linebacker Sam Mills during his fight with intestinal cancer, and served as a reminder to teammates and friends to never give up, no matter how dire the situation.

Cam Newton and the Panthers took them to heart Sunday.

Newton, who had struggled all afternoon, threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds left to lift the Panthers to a 17-13 win over the New Orleans Saints and clinch the team’s first playoff berth since 2008 before more than 70,000 rain-drenched fans.

Carolina (11-4) can wrap up the NFC South and a first-round bye in the playoffs with a win next Sunday at Atlanta.

Linebacker Thomas Davis addressed Mills’ message before the game, and Newton said it was never more applicable than Sunday.

“That’s about the best words you can put for the type of game we had,” Newton said. “You know we just kept fighting, kept pounding, kept getting after it. We really knew we were one drive away. We were one play away.”

Manning surpasses Brady with 51st TD

Peyton Manning finished 32 for 51 for 400 yards and four touchdown passes in Denver’s 37-13 win over Houston that clinched the AFC West.

Manning has 51 touchdown passes and surpassed Tom Brady (50 in 2007) for the most in a season in NFL history. Brady has led his team to 11 division titles, the most by a starting quarterback in NFL history and one more than Manning. The 51st went to Julius Thomas, who didn’t keep the ball after his score.

“It wouldn’t have surprised me if Julius would have went and handed it to some babe up in the stands, trying to get her phone number in exchange for the ball. That would be right up Julius’ alley,” Manning said of his record throw.


• If Detroit fires Jim Schwartz after the season, the team will owe him more than $12 million, according to ESPN.

• Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon broke Art Monk’s franchise season record with 107 catches. Monk had 106 in 1984.

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