There will be a lot written about the highlights of the game this week, but there are plays that stood out, or rather two specific individuals on two specific plays, that I feel will easily be overlooked. Both individuals on these two plays encapsulates the determination and effort from everyone on the team this year, playing hard to the final whistle.
The first play is from the defensive side of the ball. The saints are on their own 6 yard line, it's 2 and 7 with 12:01 in the 4th quarter. After the ball is snapped, both Luke Kueckly and Thomas Davis drive towards the line in an apparent delayed blitz, Davis realized he has no opening floats along the line. When Drew Brees releases the ball, Davis is a full 10 yards away from Jimmy Graham. Yet by the time Graham catches the ball, turns, and heads down field, Davis has closed the gap to 5 yards. With momentum on his side, by the time Graham moves only 5 yards, Davis is running along side of him. After that it's more of a race to the sidelines than down field, leading to a Davis tackle.
You can view the highlight here at NFL.com
While the drive did ultimately end up with a touchdown, this play shows more than a key moment but the mentality of the defense; the hustle that Davis shows in catching up to and and ultimately tackling Graham is the reason this defense has played so well this year. And why David deserves to go to the Pro Bowl..
Unlike the first play that didn't have a final desired outcome of stopping the Saints scoring, this second play was at a critical point and changed the outcome of the game. In fact it was on the last Panther's offensive play, the touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Domenik Hixon. At the time, the announcers made the comment that it was hard to believe that a free release safety blitz didn't get more pressure on Newton.
Standing beside Newton at the snap, Tolbert steps up in anticipation of the blitzing linebacker and upon realizing that's not where the pressure is coming from, steps back in time to notice Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins blitzing from the outside, push him just enough to miss Newton, allowing Cam to step up and throw the touchdown pass.
Watch the play highlight at NFL.com.
Outside of the obvious two players, Newton passing the ball and Hixon catching the ball, the biggest individual performance on this play was non other than Mike Tolbert, in fact his performance on this play, allowed Cam to make the throw. While Tolbert didn't get the carries yesterday that we have come to expect, this plays shows how important he is to the team's success.
I'm looking forward to watching this team play a bit longer this year and seeing who steps up to make the key plays. It's a great ride for however long it lasts.