**If you don’t understand the Harry Potter reference, refer to the Tweet of the Game.**
Tonight’s Carolina Panthers game was ugly. Hagrid ugly.
While Panthers fans have been spoiled for the greater part of this season by tremendous performances by quarterback Cam Newton and fearsome front 7 of the defense, they were brought down to Earth by the New Orleans Saints. The final score? 31-13. And it was not as close as the score indicated.
It was as if an invisibility cloak was upon the Panthers, as the team we fell in love with was nowhere to be found. Dynamic quarterback Cam Newton? A paltry 160 yards passing, 45 yards rushing, 1 touchdown. That tenacious defense? Gave up over 30 points and did not have a single takeaway. Star linebacker Luke Kuechly? Nary a peep. How about ultra-reliable Graham Gano? Missed a field goal. Okay, how about that gambling coach "Riverboat Ron" Rivera? Settled for field goals on fourth down. (Okay, it was understandable.)
As we wind the season down, this loss could not come at a worse time. Does this team make a deep playoff run? Or was this winning streak merely covering up the litany of warts on the offensive line and in the secondary? Do we have a Super Bowl contender or pretender? One thing is for sure, we will definitely find out when the Panthers play the Saints again in two weeks. If the Panthers continue to falter down the stretch, this season may be one that "shall not be named."
The Turning Point: Hard to pinpoint just one, but if one had to be picked, it would be the missed field goal by Graham Gano. With spirits low entering halftime after a 21-6 deficit, the Panthers dismissed the Saints offense on their first drive with a "3 and out." When the Panthers took over, they drove down the field with authority, as if they had completely erased the first half from their memory. Jonathan Stewart led the way, first with a 16-yard rush, then a 16-yard reception. However, he would end up injuring his right knee after the completion of those two plays. The drive would stall, and the team seemed resiged to settle for a Gano field goal to keep the game respectable. But the kick would sail wide right and the Panthers would not threaten again until late in the fourth quarter.
The Good: Um, Not much. Greg Olsen and Steve Smith played well, and were reliable targets for Newton. Ginn ripped off a great return in the 1st quarter that led to a score. And hey, the Panthers still hold on to the 5th seed in the NFC Conference!
The Bad: This game truly highlighted the disparity between the quality of the Panthers offensive line and that of New Orleans. While Brees enjoyed a near pressure-less game, Newton was found nearly avoiding a rusher on every dropback. By the end of the game, Newton suffered 5 sacks for 49 yards lost.
On the other side, the vaunted front 7 of the Panthers were silenced by the Saints offensive line. We have been accustomed to hearing the names of Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, Star Lotulelei, and Kawann Short pressuring the quarterback, but they were stifled tonight. This team leans HEAVILY on its defense, and if the front seven can not pressure the quarterback, the secondary is widely exposed, as they were tonight. Quarterback Drew Brees seemed to have Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham open on nearly every play.
Panthers Who Struggled: Byron Bell, pass rush, pass coverage
Tweet of the game:
"Kraken. Hogwarts." http://t.co/kesKOVX1ra— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) December 9, 2013
The Panthers "appear" to have a less challenging game on the horizon, as they take on quarterback Geno Smith and the New York Jets at home. However, they have a strong defense of their own and are coming off a win against the Oakland Raiders.
Stay tuned for more analysis...This is Now an Open Thread!