The NFC wild-card game Sunday began with Cam Newton seeing a pass go right through the hands of an open receiver in the end zone. It ended with Newton under a pile of Saints pass rushers on fourth-and-23 with six seconds left.

That happened one play after another receiver seemed to misjudge a catchable pass in that same end zone — which happened one play after an intentional grounding call in the face of another ferocious rush.

All of which happened after Newton was either concussed earlier in the fourth quarter, or he wasn’t.

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That’s no way for the Panthers’ season to end, for their playoff game to end, or for another year of Newton’s career to end. On the other hand, this is what the Panthers created, and it’s what they gave Newton, the cornerstone of the franchise, so in a sense it’s exactly how it should have ended.

In the wake of that season-ending 31-26 defeat, there are only so many times one can ask whether the Panthers want Newton to just win by himself, if it’s some kind of game they’re playing to see how little help they can get away with giving.

Make a case, if you want, for spending a big draft pick on Christian McCaffrey last spring, and for getting terribly unlucky with fellow rookie Curtis Samuel’s torn ankle ligaments, and with Greg Olsen missing half the season with his broken foot.

But with that, look around the NFL, or even just the rest of the playoff teams, and ask why some teams have weapons surrounding their quarterbacks and the Panthers don’t.

For the record, Kaelin Clay dropped the first-quarter touchdown. Devin Funchess lost track of the throw in the final minute, or something. The Panthers offensive line became turnstiles at the wrong times. McCaffrey scored the touchdown that got the Panthers back into the game, but he also got manhandled on the block that led to the intentional grounding call.

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The league office may have to weigh in (again) on how fast Newton cleared concussion protocol after that aforementioned pancake hit. That’s an old story, too: the blind spot about how bad a beating he’s taking and whether it’s ever enough to take him out of a game, at any point of the season, much less a playoff game.

It all comes down to how the Panthers are helping Newton. Or whether they ever do.

All things considered — and on and off the field, that’s a lot — Newton had a strong bounce-back season. He was at his best during the bulk of their run of eight wins in nine games heading into the season finale. He was at his worst in that regular season finale against the Falcons, which cost them the NFC South title.

From Week 16 through three quarters of the playoff game against the Saints, the Panthers scored just two offensive touchdowns. On Sunday, through three quarters, they had three field goals to show for their four trips inside the 20, two inside the 10 (plus a franchise-best 58-yard kick).

But Newton was a marvel in the fourth quarter Sunday; he threw for nearly half of his 349 yards (1

74) and both of his touchdowns. It was frantic, it was desperate, it was another high-wire act.

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On the other side, though, Drew Brees had Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Josh Hill — and Ted Ginn Jr. Yeah, him, former Panther who left as a free agent in the offseason. Ginn caught an 80-yard bomb minutes after the Clay drop (and the subsequent missed field goal).

It’s hard to declare the Panthers couldn’t have used Ginn, or the traded Kelvin Benjamin, because at times like this Newton could have used anybody he could get. In the end, just nine of Newton’s 24 completions were to wide receivers. It was Olsen or bust. Or pray for McCaffrey to bust one. Or hope for a flag.

Or cross your fingers that Newton will figure something out — possibly foggy head and all.

It won’t work anymore in the 2017-18 season. The Panthers are now on the clock to find out what does before Newton exits his prime. Or it’s beaten out of him.