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Little-Big Plays: Carolina vs. New Orleans Week 13

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Highlighting the little plays that made all the difference between winning and losing in Carolina's 41-38 victory over the New Orleans Saints

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Little-big plays are the plays that may not stand out in the box score, but go a long way to winning – or losing –a game. Little-big plays extend drives that lead to scores, turn field goals into touchdowns, or flip field position. On the other hand, negative little-big plays can abruptly end drives and take points off the board

Here are the little-big plays that helped the Carolina Panthers beat the New Orleans Saints in Week 13 of the 2015 NFL season.

Positive plays from Panther players are marked with a plus-sign and negative plays with a minus-sign, with the players' cumulative season totals for each type of play listed by his name. For example, if on the year Cam Newton has posted six positive little-big plays and three negative plays, it would show (+6, -3).

1st Quarter

9:36 – Panthers 0, Saints 0. NO ball 3rd-and-8 on CAR 49. After both team punted on their initial drives, New Orleans faced 3rd-and-8 from near midfield. The Saints Brandon Coleman ran a shallow crossing route over the middle, and Carolina safety Kurt Coleman (+8, -1) was slow to release his initial coverage to pick him up. The Saints WR snagged a high pass, beat Kurt Coleman to the sideline, and sprinted 31 yards to the Carolina 18. This play extended a drive that ended two plays later with a Benjamin Watson touchdown and a 7-0 Saints lead.

5:16 – Panthers 0, Saints 7. NO ball 4th-and-10 on CAR 20. Four plays after Watson’s TD, Delvin Breaux intercepted Cam Newton and returned the ball to the Carolina 20. It looked like New Orleans would convert the interception into at least a field goal, but Kai Forbath missed a 38-yard field goal. The miss killed the Saints momentum following the interception and kept the score 7-0. However, the Saints momentum returned when…

4:25 – Panthers 0, Saints 7. CAR ball 2nd-and-9 on CAR 29. Just two plays after the missed field goal, Jonathan Stewart (+2, -2) got stood up at the line when New Orleans’ Stephone Anthony suddenly emerged from the scrum and sprinted to the end zone with the ball in hand. The play was ruled a strip and a touchdown. Carolina had now turned the ball over twice in three plays, and New Orleans suddenly led 14-0 amid chants of "Who dat? Who dat?" from the boisterous home crowd (see the answer to that grammatically-incorrect question below.)

1:33 – Panthers 0, Saints 14. CAR ball 4th-and-1 on NO 41. Needing a spark, Ron Rivera (+5, -0) pulled a Riverboat Ron and went for it on 4th-and-1. The call by Mike Shula (+5, -4) was simply beautiful. Cam Newton faked a handoff right, turned left, and sprinted into a wide open void down the sideline for a 30-yard gain to the New Orleans 11. This little-big play extended the drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown reception by Mike Tolbert, trimming the Saints lead to 14-7.

2nd Quarter

13:08 – Panthers 7, Saints 14. NO ball 2nd-and-10 on NO 36. Drew Brees connected with Benjamin Watson for a 20-yard gain to the Carolina 49, but Senio Kelemete was flagged for holding Charles Johnson (+1, -1). Johnson had broken through the line to force Kelemete’s hold. The Saints never recovered from 2nd-and-20 and were forced to punt two plays later.

9:29 – Panthers 7, Saints 14. CAR ball 2nd-and-19 on NO 27. Cam Newton connected with Greg Olsen (+10, -4) for a 13-yard reception down to the New Orleans 14, but Olsen was stripped by Brian Dixon and the Saints recovered the fumble. Olsen’s fumble took points off the board and was the third turnover in Carolina’s now disastrous first half.

9:19 – Panthers 7, Saints 14. NO ball 1st-and-10 on NO 23. On the Saints first play after Olsen’s fumble, Mark Ingram fumbled as well, but the Saints recovered to retain possession. All of the breaks and bounces were going the Saints way early on.

2:00 – Panthers 13, Saints 14. CAR Extra Point. Jonathan Stewart scored a five-yard touchdown on an option thanks to a solid edge block by Greg Olsen (+11, -4) and a great read and pitch by Cam Newton (+16, -12). But even when things start looking good for Carolina, disaster struck on the extra point. Kevin Williams blocked Graham Gano’s kick and Stephone Anthony returned it for a 2-point score for New Orleans. Instead of a 14-14 tie, New Orleans now led 16-13 on this huge momentum-shifting play.

3rd Quarter

11:44 – Panthers 13, Saints 16. CAR ball 3rd-and-8 on NO 8. Ted Ginn (+4, -3) ran a good out route on 3rd-and-8 for a probable first down, and Brandon Browner had to hold Ginn to prevent the catch. The defensive holding gave the Panthers a first down to extend the drive. Three plays later Cam Newton hit Jonathan Stewart for a three-yard TD, but Mike Remmers (+2, -3) was flagged for holding. Then, on 3rd-and-13, New Orleans blew their coverage and left Ted Ginn wide open in the back of the end zone for a Panthers TD and a Carolina 20-16 lead.

10:13 – Panthers 20, Saints 16. NO ball 3rd-and-10 on NO 20. On 3rd-and-10, Kawann Short (+7, -1) split a double team and sacked Drew Brees for a nine-yard loss, forcing a punt. Short is simply dominating right now.

5:01 – Panthers 20, Saints 16. CAR ball 2nd-and-13 on NO 13. Devin Funchess (+4, -1) was lined up wide left against Brandon Browner who was in man coverage. Funchess faked left, then darted in on a quick slant and got just enough separation on Browner for Cam Newton to throw an absolute laser to Funchess for a 13-yard TD and a 27-16 Panthers lead. The little-big play wasn’t the TD itself, but the great route by the burgeoning rookie receiver to get the separation to enable the score.

2:59 – Panthers 27, Saints 16. NO ball 2nd-and-10 on NO 46. After back-to-back boneheaded neutral zone infractions on Kony Ealy (+6, -4), Brandin Cooks scored on a 54-yard touchdown strike. On Cooks’ score, Carolina was in zone coverage and Kurt Coleman (+8, -2) and Roman Harper (+4, -5) miscommunicated their assignments. Coleman came up to cover a shallow crossing route while Harper shaded to the sideline as Cooks flew up the seam into a wide open secondary for an easy score. New Orleans then went for two and converted, narrowing Carolina’s lead to 27-24.

1:03 – Panthers 27, Saints 24. CAR ball 1st-and-10 on CAR 28. Ted Ginn (+4, -4) was split wide left and smoked Brandon Browner off the line of scrimmage. Ginn flew down the sideline with Browner trailing by five yards. Cam Newton threw a perfect deep ball that hit Ginn right in the hands for what should have been an easy 72-yard touchdown, but Ginn simply dropped the ball – again. Easy drops by Ginn on homerun balls are happening far too often. On the next play, Devin Funchess (+4, -2) dropped an out route that hit him right in the chest for a would-be first down. On third down, Cam Newton (+16, -13) overthrew a wide-open Philly Brown who had lost Brandon Browner for what should have been an easy touchdown. The Panthers simply self-destructed on this possession, missing sure TDs by Ginn’s drop and Cam’s overthrow.

4th Quarter

15:00 – Panthers 27, Saints 24. NO ball 2nd-and-6 on NO 28. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Brandin Cooks beat Bene Benwikere (+2, -3) on a go route. Benwikere was called for a 37-yard pass interference, setting up the Saints at the Carolina 31. Three plays later, Drew Brees connected with a wide open Brandon Coleman for a 24-yard score and a 31-27 Saints lead. On the score, it appeared Josh Norman and Roman Harper had a miscommunication in coverage with Norman pointing at Harper after the play.

12:02 – Panthers 27, Saints 31. CAR ball 2nd-and-8 on NO 45. Ted Ginn (+5, -4) simply flew past four different Saints defenders like they were stuck in quicksand on a deep route over the middle. Cam Newton launched a bomb off his back foot and this time Ginn hauled it in for a score.

11:09 – Panthers 34, Saints 31. NO ball 2nd-and-19 on NO 11. After a crushing Thomas Davis (+10, -2) sack for a nine-yard loss on first down, Drew Brees overthrew Ben Watson on a deep post route on second down. And like he has done all season, Kurt Coleman (+9, -2) tracked down the overthrow and made a great interception. After the pick the Panthers offense stalled and had to punt after a three-and-out after Cam Newton (+16, -14) underthrew an open Greg Olsen on 3rd-and-1 on a play that Cam simply has to convert.

5:27 – Panthers 34, Saints 31. NO ball 1st-and-Goal on CAR 9. Mark Ingram took a handoff off the right end, and Bene Benwikere (+2, -4) was unblocked. Benwikere whiffed badly on the tackle as Ingram bounced outside and scored, giving the Saints a late 38-34 lead.

3:41 – Panthers 34, Saints 38. CAR ball 3rd-and-5 on NO 46. Ted Ginn burned Jairus Byrd off the line, and Byrd had to grab Ginn before he could run free. The grab slowed Ginn down just enough that Newton’s bomb slipped off Ginn’s fingertips for what would have been a touchdown, but Byrd was flagged for the penalty and the Panthers got a first down. This drop wasn’t as bad on Ginn’s part as his earlier drop, but it was just another reminder that his inconsistency catching the deep ball could come back to seriously haunt Carolina in the playoffs when it really matters.

2:09 – Panthers 34, Saints 38.CAR ball 4th-and-4 on NO 46. With the game on the line, Cam Newton (+17, -14) scrambled to avoid pressure, giving Greg Olsen (+12, -4) time to get open in the flat. Newton ran left then muscled a 16-yard pass to Olsen, who made a diving, rolling catch to scoop up the ball just before it hit the ground. Saints coach Sean Payton challenged the catch, but the call on the field stood and Carolina converted on fourth down. Three plays later, Cam Newton threw a laser to Jerricho Cotchery for the game-winning 15-yard touchdown.

:15 – Panthers 41, Saints 38. NO ball 4th-and-10 at Midfield. New Orleans needed about 11 yards to attempt a deep field goal to tie, but instead Drew Brees threw a deep pass to Brandin Cooks. Josh Norman (+7, -0) had Cooks in man coverage, and Norman shut him down. Norman’s tight coverage forced Brees to throw the ball too far toward the sideline for Cooks to even come close to a reception.

Even when they repeatedly self-destruct like they did against the Saints, the 2015 Carolina Panthers just keep on winning.

The Panthers are now 16-0 in their last 16 regular season games going back to last year.

12-0 is a wonderful feeling.

Keep pounding!

Oh, and New Orleans fans, to answer your question:

We dat.

We dat.