The Carolina Panthers had a chance to assume undisputed first place in the NFC South on Sunday.
Instead, the Panthers got blasted, making far too many mistakes as New Orleans defeated Carolina 31-21 in a raucous Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Panthers never led as they fell to 8-4, with New Orleans moving to 9-3. Here are some of the players who had a big hand in Carolina’s loss:
▪ Michael Palardy: The Panthers punter has been really good the entire season – until the second quarter. After a perfect snap, Palardy inexplicably dropped the ball before he could punt it. Then he panicked.
A quick, rugby-style punt might have worked. Palardy instead tried to throw an ill-conceived pass, which would have been nullified because of all the Panthers players downfield even if it had been completed. The result? A turnover on downs at Carolina’s 31.
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▪ Julius Peppers: At 37, Peppers hardly ever makes the big mistake anymore (although he did defend Charles Johnson for making one this past week with his four-game-suspension).
But Peppers made his own mistake Sunday shortly after Palardy’s miscue. Just after the Panthers had apparently stopped the saints on third down to force a field goal, Peppers fired the ball carrier into the turf when he was clearly out of bounds. Given a second chance, New Orleans scored a touchdown – so Peppers’ gaffe cost the Panthers at least four points.
▪ Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara: It is supposed to be New Orleans rookie Kamara who makes the monstrous plays out of the backfield for the Saints, and he certainly had his share with two TDs.
But Ingram broke off a big-time 72-yard run in the second quarter when the game was tied at 7, and then finished the drive himself with a 3-yard TD run two plays later.
Ingram showed so much power the entire game, once fighting his way through both Thomas Davis and Captain Munnerlyn to make a first down on a pass he should have come up 2 yards short. That drive would eventually result in a critical TD that gave New Orleans a 28-14 lead.
And Kamara – whew! What a player. He scored twice and he had at least 60 yards both rushing and receiving.
▪ Devin Funchess: The Panthers No. 1 wide receiver simply couldn’t make it happen on Sunday. He had a chance for a 30-yard gain on a one-on-one ball but had it stripped out of his hands. His first catch didn’t come until the last play of the third quarter. Funchess would later drop a ball and then pick up 5 yards on a fourth-and-6 in the red zone on the same empty series, although he did score on a 24-yard touchdown pass with 3:57 to go and then nearly made a spectacular play on the ensuing onsides kick.
▪ Kurt Coleman: How many tackles did the Panthers safety miss Sunday?
▪ Matt Kalil: Kalil got not one but two personal-foul penalties for yanking on Saints defensive end Cam Jordan’s facemask.
▪ Luke Kuechly: He had a fumble recovery, yes, and played very well at times. But Kuechly too often got caught up in the wash when Saints runners broke through the defensive line. That helped result in New Orleans rush for about 150 yards on a day when the Panthers’ No. 1 priority was to make the Saints one-dimensional, taking away the run. It didn’t work.
▪ Kaelin Clay: Trying to make a big play on a punt return around his own 40 and Carolina down 28-14 with about nine minutes left in the game – Clay sure did, but for the wrong team. His fumble negated Carolina’s last real chance.
▪ Cam Newton: The Panthers quarterback was better than the first time these two teams met, but that didn’t take much. The Saints effectively controlled Newton on the ground most of the game and the quarterback just couldn’t move the chains enough, as Carolina went three-and-out on four straight drives at one point in the first half. Newton also underthrew a potential touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd on a deep ball early in the fourth quarter.