Saints have no margin for error
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There's no time for the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers to bemoan their latest misfortunes.
They have a game to play.
Four days after both teams lost in devastating fashion because of late-game blunders, the teams collide Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium with still plenty at stake in the NFC South.
“That's one plus,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “We don't have to dwell (on the loss) for very long.”
The Panthers (3-6) blew a 17-point lead and had two fourth-quarter turnovers that allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to escape with a 20-17 victory. New Orleans (4-5) was primed to knock off the Denver Broncos, but instead of a go-ahead extra-point kick the boot was blocked and returned for a two-point defensive conversion that resulted in New Orleans' 25-23 setback.
So for a pair of teams that looked ready to show movement in the standings, they're suddenly headed in the wrong direction.
The Thursday night tilt might be a tonic, at least for the team that comes out on top.
“I think it's a good thing because all you want to do is get back on the field as fast as you can,” New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said. “We've got to bounce back and find a way to get a win this week at Carolina.”
Any Super Bowl hangover for the Panthers is so far in the past because the team is in danger of missing the playoffs altogether this season.
“What we've done is put our backs completely against the wall,” Rivera said. “There is no room for error now. What we have to do is we have to go forward. I have to make sure we do that.”
The Panthers continue to insist that there's time to put it together. A two-game winning streak before the late follies against Kansas City was evident of that.
“We've got a good team,” Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “When you look at the season, it's not where you want to be but it's where we're at now. We've got to do our best to get this thing moving in the right direction.”
There's a degree of optimism coming from the Panthers, who could benefit from other teams in the NFC South stalling at times as well.
“There's no need to panic,” Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said. “When you look at it, whatever our record is, it's not good. But yet we have a locker room full of winners and a locker room full of guys full of fight and I know I am willing to go to battle with those guys. I can't wait until Thursday.”
Yet the manner in which the Panthers and Saints lost last weekend means the team able to shake off those results best could be in the better situation for this week's game.
“These guys care so much,” Brees said, referring to his teammates and the reaction to the bizarre outcome against Denver.
The Saints aren't short on experience in tight games, something they figure will eventually pay off.
“It's frustrating. We work too hard,” Saints receiver Willie Snead said. “We're battle-tested, for sure. This is going to make us stronger.”
While time is crucial with the quick turnaround for the next game, the midway point of the season has passed and the goal is to avoid future missed opportunities.
“It's going to be a short week for us and we have to get it together,” Snead said.
While failing to defeat Denver was tough enough for the Saints, the next assignment is of utmost importance.
“Some lessons in our league are learned the hard way,” New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. “The key is we have a quick turnaround. It's important it doesn't affect the next game.”
The Saints were hampered by four turnovers in the Denver game, while both of Carolina's giveaways to Kansas City came in the fourth quarter.
For Carolina, which dropped a 41-38 decision last month at New Orleans, avoiding a season sweep is among the factors that makes the outcome this week extra vital. The result of the first matchup of the season hinged on Saints kicker Wil Lutz's 52-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining.
Further complicating things for the Panthers is that they've gone 2-3 in home games and they're 0-3 against NFC South opponents.
This marks the return of Saints safety Roman Harper to Charlotte, where he played the last two seasons and started in a total of 37 regular-season and postseason games during that stretch.