Best, worst of the Panthers' 12-5 season - FOX Carolina 21

Best, worst of the Panthers' 12-5 season

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A look at some highlights and lowlights from the Panthers' 12-5 season that ended with a 23-10 loss in the NFC divisional playoffs to the San Francisco 49ers.

Best Game: The Panthers defeated New Orleans 17-13 on Cam Newton's touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds left to clinch the team's first playoff berth since 2008 and give them control of the NFC South division.

Worst Game: Coming off a bye, the Panthers travelled to Arizona and lost 22-6, allowing seven sacks to fall to 1-3. But the Panthers rebounded to win eight straight games and 11 of their next 12.

Best Play: Newton's 56-yard run against Tampa Bay on Dec. 1 was a thing of beauty with the quarterback eluding seven tackles while cutting back and forth across the playing field before finally being dragged down.

Worst Play: The Panthers allowed Bills QB EJ Manuel to take his team 80 yards in 1:38 with no timeouts remaining, beating them on a 2-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson with two seconds left.

Biggest Surprise: Carolina's secondary, considered the weakest heading into the season, held up throughout most of the year for the league's second-ranked defense. Of course, they had plenty of help from a strong front seven.

Biggest Disappointment: Just like in 2008, the Panthers earned the No. 2 seed in the playoffs but couldn't take advantage, losing at home. This time, it was San Francisco that beat them, 23-10.

What's Next: Decisions on free agents including DE Greg Hardy. He tied a franchise-record with 15 sacks and could earn the team's biggest contract ever -- or, more than likely, get the franchise tag. The Panthers must also decide whether it's time to give Newton a contract extension.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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