Week 14 of the NFL’s 2013 season is the time when teams with winning records -like the Saints- can clinch a playoff berth or not, continue in the hunt or go home. Week 14 is also the time when those teams who have no hope of moving into postseason play are shuffled out of the mix. Sunday Night Football brought the Carolina Panthers down to New Orleans to face the Saints. These teams are tied 9-3 and the winner of this game will lead the NFC South.
The Saints will travel to Charlotte, NC to play the Panthers again in two weeks and if they split the games, and end up with the same record, say, winning their next 2 games, the Saints own the tie breaker. That means they win the NFC South and likely will have a first round bye. Carolina will have to settle for a Wild Card spot in the playoffs.
The game began well for the Panthers. They have the stingiest defense in the NFL, allowing only 12 touchdowns all season and only two in the first half. The Saints were unable to do anything with their first two drives, but Cam Newton and the Panthers drove down field for a field goal, twice. At the end of the 1st quarter, the score was 6-0 Carolina, but Drew Brees and his Saints had the ball at the end of that quarter. Within 5 minutes of the second quarter, the Saints had the lead with a touchdown pass to Marques Colston, 7-6.
Newton was sacked by Cameron Jordan on 3rd and 6, which brought up a Carolina punt. The 56 yard kick was taken by Sproles in the end zone and returned 15 yards. However, a holding flag pushed the Saints back to the 24 yard line.
From there, Brees worked back down the field. A second touchdown was negated by a penalty on Saints’ offensive lineman Ben Grubbs. He grabbed and held Greg Hardy as he was going after Brees. The Saints reset with 1st and goal at the 14 yard line. Sproles was caught by Carolina’s Thomas Davis, who is playing by sheer miracle after three ACL surgeries, and playing well. On 2nd and goal, Davis was negated as Brees hit Colston in the end zone for the touchdown. The scoring drive was 11 plays, covered 86 yards and ate 5:44 off the clock in the second quarter. The score with the kick was now 14-6, Saints.
As of this point, the Panther’s high energy, quick and aggressive pass rushers had only managed to knock Brees down twice.
Pierre Thomas and Charles Ingram carried the running game while Jimmy Graham, Ben Watson and Colston kept Brees’ aerial attack going. Carolina’s defensive reputation was soon crushed, as Brees lead the Saints down the field for a third touchdown to Graham before halftime, extending the lead to 21-6 . The drive was seven plays and cleared 76 yards.
This marked the 88th touchdown scored during the course of all the games played today, setting an NFL record. With 18 seconds remaining in the half, the Saints kicked off to the Panthers who simply ran out the clock.
The Saints got the ball to start the 3rd quarter. They ended up punting however, and the Panthers worked downfield to try a field goal. From the 39 yard line, the kick missed wide right and the Saints got the ball on downs with 10:19 in the quarter.
Brees, Ingram, Graham and Colston worked the ball downfield again. On 3rd down, Brees found Colston crossing over the middle. He was tackled short of the end zone, but stretched forward to get the ball over the goal line. Upon review, the touchdown was overturned. Colston’s knee was down at the half-yard line. Carolina’s defense held and even pushed the offense back a yard. The Saints had to settle for a 19 yard field goal, extending their lead again, to 24-6.
The end of the quarter saw Newton sacked again and no change in the score. Although the Panthers defense appeared to be finding their groove, the offense simply could not stop drawing flags long enough to get a good drive going for a scoring attempt that did not involve the kicker.
To start the 4th quarter, incomplete passes and penalties (illegal hands -15) took the Panthers to 3rd and 20 at the 24 yard line. Newton was sacked again by Cam Jordan. Newton was making a habit of backing away from his pocket into the sack or attempting to escape and running right into Jordan or Junior Galette. By this point in the game, they had two sacks each on Newton.
Moving into the 4th quarter, Brees hit Graham again for a touchdown and with that pass went over 50 thousand yards in his career, another NFL record for New Orleans’ signal caller. He is the fastest quarterback to hit the 50 thousand mark in the history of the NFL. The score with the kick went to 31-6 with 9:52 remaining in the game.
Ted Ginn, Jr. took the kickoff at the goal line and ran it back for Carolina. He was corralled out of bounds before he got too far along.
Newton’s line held well and he had time to find his receivers, namely Brandon LaFell, Greg Olsen and Mike Tolbert. However, they continued to hurt themselves with flags (holding after completion of play -10 yards at spot of the foul) just as they got a good drive going. Saints’ safety a la cart Kenny Vaccaro continued to impress defensive coordinator Rob Ryan with his versatility, lining up alternatively as a corner and a safety on consecutive plays.
When he had to, Newton used his legs, averaging over 10 yards per scramble when he ran for a first down. He eschewed the foot-first slide as well, allowing himself to be tackled like the runner he was.
A pass went incomplete into the end zone and the Superdome just got louder. Newton called timeout on 2nd and goal to discuss options. Another incomplete pass went too high and too far back into the end zone, bringing up 3rd down.
On 3rd and goal, Newton was forced back and sacked for the fifth time, giving Galette his 3rd of the night, his 9th of the season. On 4th and goal, the Panthers went for it, but called timeout when Newton could not force the Saints D-line to jump off-sides.
After the timeout, Newton escaped a 3-man rush and found Steve Smith in the end zone draped by Saints defender, Keenan Lewis, for the Panther’s first touchdown of the game. The pass was 17 yards and the kick put the score to 31-13 with 5:15 to go in the game.
The Panthers attempted an on-side kick but the Saints recovered and began to work their way through the clock to seal the win. Brees was sacked and the ball stripped but the Saints Collins saved the fumble. On 3rd and 19, New Orleans took a delay of game (-5) flag.
The penalty pushed the Saints back to 3rd and 24. Pierre Thomas got the check down and took the ball to midfield. With 4th and 15, the Saints punted the ball, leaving the Panthers less than 3:00 in regulation.
Newton’s attempts to go deep with the ball repeatedly fell off the mark. Despite having an open man on more than one occasion, Newtown and his receivers did not seem to be on the same wavelength.
With this loss, the Panthers’ 8-game winning streak is broken but they still have a chance for a Wild Card slot. They simply are not in full control of their destiny. The must beat New Orleans in Charlotte and win against two of their remaining opponents in order to see postseason play.
The Saints improve to 10-3, the Panthers fall to 9-4. New Orleans has to go on the road to play the St. Louis Rams then meet the Panthers again in Week 16. They end the season hosting Tampa Bay.The Panthers host the Jets next weekend and after their deciding game with the Saints, end their season on the road against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Saints seem to have fully recovered from the bad dream that was last Monday Night Football. They too, must defeat another two opponents. As the 2nd seed in the NFC, they are now playing for home field advantage and a possible bye. The NFC South now belongs to the New Orleans Saints, who defeated the Carolina Panthers, 31-13 on Sunday Night Football.
By Brandi Tasby