In almost a repeat performance of Sunday, the Carolina Panthers hang on in prime time for the win…
A game that seemingly held the Carolina Panthers season in the balance featured many aspects that have led to the current 4-6 record, except one. Turnovers. The Panthers defense had another fast start, the offense pulled ahead early, injuries occurred all over the field, and Carolina let the Saints rally back in the final quarter. Fortunately, behind a zero turnover effort, Carolina held on for the win despite suffering some key losses along the way.
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After only reaching Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees once during Week Six, the Carolina defense continued their improved pressure getting Brees down three times on Thursday night. Mario Addison continued his impressive play with a strip sack and recovery of Brees on the Saints’ opening drive just five plays into the contest. After kicking off, Carolina had the ball at the New Orleans’ 32-yard line, ready for the offense to take over.
Nov 17, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; An overall view of Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
The win keeps Carolina’s playoff chances afloat as they trail division leading Atlanta by only two games. However, injuries suffered at offensive line, wide receiver, defensive line, linebacker, and in the secondary have many questioning the status of this team moving forward. Fortunately, the Panthers now have an extended break before traveling out west to face Oakland and Seattle.
Nov 17, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; A closeup view of Carolina Panthers defensive end Mario Addison (97) cleats during the game against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
FIRST QUARTER: 3-3, TIED
The Carolina Panthers defense got things started with the Mario Addison strip sack of Brees and recovery inside Saints’ territory. However, the ensuing offensive possession was an emotional roller coaster. Four plays in it appeared receiver Ted Ginn had taken the ball into the end zone, but the play was reviewed and reversed.
With Carolina positioned just outside the goal line running back Jonathan Stewart was stuffed prior to a Cam Newton sack backing the Panthers out to the 12-yard line. A converted field goal by Graham Gano was then nullified on a roughing the kicker penalty, but the Panthers still failed to capitalize on the fresh set of downs.
A 32-yard field goal finally put Carolina on the board after seemingly scoring a touchdown. New Orleans would immediately respond with their own three pointer after a 14-play, 71 yard drive stalled inside the red zone.
Brees is sacked. And FUMBLES! Going the other way!
Nov 17, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn (19) catches a touchdown pass as New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Craig Robertson (52) defends in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
SECOND QUARTER: 20-3, CAROLINA
In a truly exciting stretch of football, Carolina surged to a 20-3 halftime lead by scoring 17 unanswered points. After a series of punts, safety Kurt Coleman started the onslaught with his second interception of the season. Eight plays later, running back Jonathan Stewart would find the end zone for Carolina’s first official touchdown of the game.
After adding another field goal, the Saints would have an opportunity of their own to put some points on the board via a 38-yard field goal attempt. The Panthers defense would block the kick as veteran linebacker Luke Kuechly recovered the football and returned it 88 yards for the score.
Unfortunately, a penalty would nullify Kuechly’s touchdown.
With only a few seconds before the half and the ball at the Saints’ 40-yard line, the Panthers wasted no time in taking a shot at the end zone. Ted Ginn hauled in a Newton pass while sliding out the back of the end zone that was initially ruled incomplete. An immediate review of the play led to a changed call as Carolina completed their first have surge.
Nov 17, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) with the ball as Carolina Panthers defensive back Leonard Johnson (23) and outside linebacker Thomas Davis (58) defend in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
THIRD QUARTER: 23-3, CAROLINA
In an almost identical third quarter from Sunday, both the Saints and Panthers traded long, time consuming drives. Carolina opened with a 14-play drive using almost seven full minutes of the clock, but unlike Sunday’s failed 20-play drive, this time the Panthers added three points to their lead.
Up 20, New Orleans would respond with a 16-play drive of their own that would see the third quarter expire prior to their own field goal attempt.
Nov 17, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Tim Hightower (34) gets tackled by Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Thomas Davis (58) in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers defeated the Saints 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
FOURTH QUARTER: 23-20, CAROLINA
The Saints added the first of 17 fourth quarter points on a successful Wil Lutz 30-yard field goal to begin the final segment of play. Sandwiched between three consecutive three-and-out possessions for the Panthers, the Saints finally broke through the Panthers’ defense.
Brees added a 9-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Coleman for the first score before silence and shock struck Bank of America Stadium midway through the Saints’ second scoring drive.
On a four yard run, both Kuechly and Robert McClain converged on New Orleans’ running back Tim Hightower. Kuechly fell to the ground and was carted off the field. Initially believed to be a leg injury, it was reported that he was instead entered into the NFL concussion protocol.
A few plays later, tight end Coby Fleener would secure an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brees pulling the Saints to within three points with 2:52 remaining.
New Orleans used their remaining two timeouts to try and get the ball back, but Carolina would convert a first-down, their first of the quarter, with a Newton pass to Kelvin Benjamin. Carolina would still be forced to punt, but New Orleans was left with too little time to pose any threat.
Great throw. Great catch. BIG 1st down for @Panthers.
Nov 17, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) rides the cart after an injury in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers defeated the Saints 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
After allowing 17 points again in the final quarter and seeing the star defensive player carted from the field, an empty feeling encompassed Bank of America Stadium. What should have been jubilation following a prime time victory over a divisional rival that, for the time being, saved a season – felt empty.
However, Kuechly’s injury was not the only one of note in an evening that was filled with misfortune. Benjamin exited early, but returned. Center Ryan Kalil, who missed the previous two games, was removed in the second half. The defenses’ newfound sack artist Addison injured his foot in the second half and did not return, while new nickel-corner Leonard Johnson suffered a chest injury in the third quarter.
Afterwards, tight end Greg Olsen talked about witnessing such injuries. “Obviously it was tough to see [Kuechly] carted off. It’s tough to see anybody carted off. He means a lot to a lot of us, more than just as a player,” Olsen said. “Obviously he’s in good hands with the doctors and they’ll do the appropriate steps. It was tough. It takes a little bit of the wind out of your sails.”
Almost suffering an identical fate, Carolina did rebound from the late loss on Sunday. With the win hope remains, but this teams’ resiliency will be tested. Facing an uphill battle on multiple fronts: trailing in the standings by two games, key injuries, and tough away games upcoming – the Panthers must dig deep and adhere to their mantra for success, ‘Keep Pounding.’