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Must win tonight for Cardinals to keep pace with Panthers

Carolina Panthers' Corey Brown (10) catches a pass for a touchdown in front of New York Giants' Trumaine McBride (38) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Panthers won 38-35. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  — Cam Newton stayed away from the nastiness around him, shrugged off a record-tying Giants comeback, and did what he does best: carry Carolina to victory.

In a wild game that saw New York tie the score after trailing by 28 points, Newton threw five touchdown passes for the third time in five weeks. The Panthers remained perfect by outlasting the Giants 38-35 Sunday on Graham Gano’s 43-yard field goal as time expired.

Making yet another strong statement for NFL Most Valuable Player honors, Newton led the Panthers (14-0) to their 18th straight regular-season victory. He has thrown for 19 touchdowns in the last five games and a career-best 33 in this so-far special season.

It looked oh so easy when NFC South champion Carolina led 35-7 with 5:32 left in the third quarter. Then the Giants matched San Francisco’s 28-point rally — from the same score — against New Orleans in 1980.

One big difference: The 49ers won that game in overtime, and the Giants (6-8) saw their playoff chances take a huge hit by falling short. They trail Washington by one game in the NFC East.

Carolina visits Atlanta and hosts Tampa Bay to finish the schedule. All three previous NFL teams to reach 14-0 — Miami in 1972, New England in 2007 and Indianapolis in 2009 — made the Super Bowl. Only the Dolphins won the championship, though.

The Panthers would secure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs if Arizona loses Sunday night at Philadelphia. The 18 straight wins match the third-longest string in NFL history.

The Giants tied it when Odell Beckham Jr., involved in a game-long helmet-smacking, shoving and jawing session with cornerback Josh Norman, got behind Norman for a 14-yard touchdown catch with 1:46 to go. Beckham had lost his composure several times as Norman was getting the best of him in their high-profile matchup. But he got free for a 40-yard catch and run that led to the tying TD.

Then Newton calmly guided the Panthers 49 yards to the winning kick.

Play ranged from chippy to nasty, particularly as the Panthers took every opportunity to bang around Beckham Jr. Beckham gave back, too, especially during one sequence when Norman crashed into him and Beckham wrestled Norman to the ground.

Three times, a frustrated Beckham was penalized for roughness. Norman also drew a flag for hitting Beckham in the helmet. And after his tying score, Beckham appeared to taunt Norman before he ran to midfield in celebration.

Meanwhile, Newton was staying cool.

He showed off his sprinting skills, and his toughness, on a 47-yard gain to set up Carolina’s first touchdown. The quarterback surged away from pursuers, then was slammed as he stepped out of bounds by rookie safety Landon Collins — Alabama hitting Auburn — for a late-hit penalty that began all maliciousness.

Ted Ginn Jr. caught a 3-yarder to make it 7-0. He added a 14-yard TD catch in the third quarter.

Newton also took a helmet to the right shoulder when passing in the second period and came to the sideline in obvious pain. But he was back on the field moments later after Rashad Jennings’ fumble was forced and recovered by Charles Tillman. Newton was celebrating in the end zone again after Greg Olsen’s 37-yard reception three plays later.

It was Carolina’s league-leading 34th takeaway; the Panthers have 124 points off turnovers in their spotless season.

Newton also had TD throws of 14 yards to Devin Funchess and 20 to Corey Brown to make it 35-7.

Back came the Giants. Will Tye caught an 8-yard TD pass and Jennings sped 38 yards to make it 35-21. Jennings became the first Giant this year with a 100-yard rushing game with 107.

Shane Vereen’s 8-yard reception brought New York within seven.

Earlier, Manning found Rueben Randle uncovered down the left sideline for a 27-yard touchdown.

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who lost the index finger on his right hand in a July 4 fireworks accident, got his first sack in his sixth game back. And though New York managed three sacks, it couldn’t hand Newton and the Panthers their first 2015 defeat.