Let's start first with NOLA.com who has a great recap of quotes from the Panthers locker room after the game. Here's my three favorite:
What the Carolina Panthers had to say after beating the New Orleans Saints | NOLA.com
"We knew we didn't play our style of defense the last time we played these guys (31-13 loss). That's getting pressure on the quarterback and making plays on the ball. I felt like we did a great job. We bent a little, but we didn't break." -- cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on the difference between the first and second meetings with the Saints.
Munny played Colston tight this time around and held him to 5 catches on 10 targets for 63 yards and no scores.
"We were playing well on defense and we knew that if we got a quick three-and-out that the offense would go do their job. We let them do that and coach (Ron) Rivera showed good confidence in us and the offense." -- linebacker Luke Kuechly, whose 24 tackles were one short of the NFL record (the stat has only been kept officially since 2000), on Rivera's decision to punt as the two-minute warning approached with Carolina behind 13-10.
I was totally in disbelief when he elected to punt but the key was still having two timeouts remaining. It helped that the Saints choose to run the ball three straight times with zero success.
"It was a great game. I hit the ball, for the most part, how I wanted to. It comes down to when called upon, trying to do my best to contribute. To be able to come through and hit those kind of punts is big time." -- punter Brad Nortman, who averaged 50.8 yards on eight punts and twice pinned the Saints inside their 5-yard line in the second half.
A win like this requires execution in all phases of the game. Nortman did a great job pinning the Saints deep.
We do need to get our Pro Bowl ballots in for this guy:
Rapid Reaction: Carolina Panthers - Carolina Panthers Blog - ESPN
Davis for Pro Bowl: Outside linebacker Thomas Davis showed yet again why he should be voted into the Pro Bowl, constantly coming up with big plays. None was bigger than his interception of a Brees pass late in the first half that completely swung momentum in a half gone bad. Carolina scored on a 43-yard run by DeAngelo Williams on the next play to go into halftime up 7-6.
It was nice to see the other team get burned for kicking FGs for a change. INT then TD run and boom!, lead gone.
Bringing the heat: If the Panthers learned anything from the first meeting between these teams, it was that Brees was less effective under pressure. So they brought it early and often, sacking Brees five times in the first half and six for the game.
It was being under pressure all game that lead to the errors and decision to run the ball in their last possession. They didn't want to lose more yardage on a sack.
Stock watch: Quarterback Cam Newton was having his absolute worst home game of the season. Then he completed three of four passes in the final minute, including a game-winning, 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds left. It was the third last-minute, winning drive of the season for the first pick of the 2011 draft. It made the rest of his miserable day forgotten.
I imagine the offense thought they had blown the game once Rivera decided to punt. So when they got the ball back they made the most of it. Where in his first two seasons Newton would make a mistake down the stretch he is now making plays. It is awesome to see the kid bounce back like that, and not with his feet. He did it as a packet passer, something many said he couldn't do effectively to win in crunch time.
Jumping back to a Saints site:
Devastating finish: The defense was on the field for only 21:12, and the Saints were dominant for about 20 of those minutes. But they broke down late in the first half on DeAngelo Williams' 43-yard touchdown run. And they collapsed during Carolina's game-winning touchdown drive, which lasted 32 seconds. It was the most stunning development in the game. Carolina didn't convert a single third down all day, and there was no indication that quarterback Cam Newton was capable of completing a 37-yard strike to receiver Ted Ginn, a 14-yard strike to tight end Greg Olsen and a blitz-busting 14-yard touchdown pass to receiver Domenik Hixon.
There was no indication...until he did it. The kid is clutch!
For those that like to see the defeated opponent wallow in their misery:
"It's the most disappointed this locker room has been all season. It's wildly disappointing," said Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief, who in the same breath said it had been a long time since he was so proud to be a part of a team because of the way the Saints battled. "That's a tough way to lose," Strief added. "And the fact of the matter is for all the energy, for all the excitement, for all the effort, at the end of the day, it counts as if you didn't have any of it."
The Good There's really not much positive to discuss but it was nice to see the Saints find success in the running game. The Bad The offensive line for the Saints is sketchy at best and it's a huge freakin' problem. Not only because Brees can't be taking 6 freakin' sacks a game like he did today but because this offense lives and dies by the play of their front five. The running game, the passing game, it all starts with the offensive line. And as this offense goes, so goes the fate of the Saints.
Back on the call by Rivera, it technically was a risky move rather than going for it.
As it turned out, the Panthers had exactly the right amount of timeouts, and Rivera made exactly the right decision. Then again, maybe all those variations would have also resulted in a victory. Whatever the decision these days, it's best to roll with Riverboat Ron. "Coach trusted his gut," tight end Greg Olsen said. "He's been great on those calls all year. That's his responsibility, and he's comes through for us time and time again. "And in hindsight, it obviously looks great."
Yup...fail and you're an idiot but if it works you're a genius. Crown Rivera a genius I say!
I love the drop zone coverage:
With the Panthers trailing 6-0 late in the first half and the offense struggling, Davis leaped high to spear a Brees pass out of the air and give Carolina possession on the Saints' 43-yard line. On the next play, running back DeAngelo Williams ripped through a hole in the middle and scored to give Carolina the halftime lead. "That was a spark," Rivera said. "It was a good call by (defensive coordinator) Sean (McDermott). I thought the execution was outstanding. "I don't think Drew saw Thomas, and it worked to our benefit."
Just a great play by Thomas Davis, one of the best of the year.
Steve Smith went down so he back-up was Next Man Up, who by the way, is no rookie but an eight year vet:
"When Steve can't go you know there is something wrong," Hixon said. "It was like my big brother, and I wanted to make him proud." Smith watched from the locker room as the game progressed. "I was icing," he said. "In the third and fourth quarter I wasn't as happy as I am now."
Another Gettleman move goes golden, or was it magic? Actually the magic was that last scoring drive per Captain Munnerlyn:
"Before they went out," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn recalled, "I just said, 'Hey Cam, go do your magic.'"
But the comeback, though it may have felt magical, really wasn't. It was remarkable, but it wasn't magical. For the first time in the second half, the Panthers offense started making plays. "Cam was good in the pocket. He hit the open receiver. Guys made plays," Gross said. "There was really no magic to it."
Newton got hot and made three consecutive nice throws to Ginn, Olsend and then Hixon. Newton's previous play no longer mattered.
So now the Panthers simply have to take care of business and then see who comes to town in January. I'll be keeping an eye on who wins the #1 seed. Since we already won in San Fran I'd like to see them get it instead of the Seahawks.