'Slugfest' of a tie game from 2014 not forgotten by Panthers, Bengals

Panthers QB Cam Newton "kept making first downs on us," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of the teams' 37-37 tie game in 2014. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- What stood out to Marvin Lewis the last time his Cincinnati Bengals faced the Carolina Panthers wasn't that his kicker missed a game-winning, 36-yard field goal attempt at the end of overtime or that it was the highest-scoring tie in NFL history.

It was "that guy."

"That guy, No. 1, just kept making first downs on us," the Bengals coach recalled of the 2014 tie (37-37) in Cincinnati as the Bengals and Panthers prepare to meet on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at Bank of America Stadium. "I think they might've converted three fourth downs, and he just kept drives alive."

That guy was Cam Newton.

The quarterback had rushed only 14 times in the Panthers' first four games as coaches brought him back slowly from offseason ankle surgery. He carried only two times in the first half against the Bengals.

But at halftime, coach Ron Rivera and company decided to unleash their quarterback, who carried 15 times for 101 of his 107 yards in the second half and overtime.

Four of those came on third- or fourth-and-short runs for first downs. The Panthers were 2-for-2 on fourth down.

"It was a slugfest," Lewis said.

Newton has a new offensive coordinator this season in Norv Turner, but the main difference Lewis sees in Newton and the Carolina offense between now and that game is running back Christian McCaffrey.

"[He] gives them a different style of back than they had back then," Lewis said of the Panthers' No. 8 overall pick of the 2017 draft. McCaffrey is coming off a 14-catch effort in a 31-24 loss to Atlanta. "Now you have another outlet for Cam as a receiver, as an open-field runner and so forth.

"So you get some formatted formations just slightly a little different than what we were getting then."

McCaffrey has helped Newton, with a 58.5 career completion percentage in his first seven seasons, become more efficient. Newton completed 69 percent of his pass attempts in the first two games with three touchdown passes and one interception.

He also leads the team in rushing with 18 carries for 100 yards and one touchdown.

McCaffrey has been "that guy" who has helped Newton go through his progressions better than ever and is making smarter decisions.

"He's doing a real good job of getting through things, getting up-field throws a chance and making good, accurate throws when he's checking it down," Turner said.

Newton didn't have a weapon like McCaffrey when he faced the Bengals in 2014. Starting running back Jonathan Stewart did not play, leaving utility back Fozzy Whittaker to carry the load.

Whittaker had nine carries for 25 yards and two catches for 27 yards. The big weapon on the ground outside of Newton was Cincinnati running back Giovani Bernard, who had an 89-yard touchdown run and 107 yards rushing on 16 carries.

Bernard will get the start this week with Joe Mixon out with a meniscus tear.

"Hopefully, I can get a 90-yarder out of this game," Bernard said.

Because ties are so rare, players from both sides were confused when overtime expired in 2014. They weren't sure if the game was over or if they kept playing.

Many never had played in a tie game.

"Count me among the confused," Carolina defensive end Mario Addison said.

Though there have been two ties this season, there were only five between 2012 and the end of 2017. The Panthers hadn't had one since they began playing in 1995.

"That was a strange day," said Graham Gano, who kicked a 44-yard field goal on the last play of regulation to force overtime and a 36-yarder in overtime to keep the game going. "The biggest thing that stood out to me was nobody knew what to do afterwards.

"It was weird. It kind of felt like you lost because you didn't win, but it helped us get in the playoffs that year, so it was good."

The Panthers lost their next six games before winning their final four to capture the NFC South with a 7-8-1 record. The tie gave them the division's playoff spot by .031 over New Orleans (7-9).

Although Rivera's initial reaction to the tie was "bleh," he later told players that could be the difference in making the playoffs.

Not everyone likes the NFL rule that allows ties. When asked if he preferred the pro rule versus the college rule where each team is given a possession to score a field goal or touchdown from the 25-yard line and play until one team wins, Newton said, "I prefer to win."

Addison agreed: "I don't think they should set a time," he said.

Because of concern over player safety, with the potential of playing a Thursday night game after an extra quarter of overtime on Sunday, the NFL reduced the extra period from 15 to 10 minutes last season.

But nobody with the Panthers felt strong enough about the current rule to seriously suggest a change.

"It's a love-hate thing," defensive tackle Kawann Short said. "At the end of the day it's not a loss, but it's not a win. You don't know what to account it for. As a team, you want that tie to go to the win column."

For the Bengals to avoid that, Lewis is pretty sure he needs to account for "that guy."

"The guy at the trigger point is still the same," he said of Newton. "He sits in that pocket, can rifle it down the field, he comes out of that pocket and can throw it, comes out of that pocket and run, and then you have the option-type plays."