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Panthers at Saints: 3 plays to love, 3 plays to hate

These key plays swung momentum and decided the Panthers 31-21 road loss against the New Orleans Saints, putting Carolina’s record at 8-4.  

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Plays to Love, Plays to Hate (aka "P2L, P2H") looks at the most significant plays in swinging momentum and impacting the eventual outcome of the game. There is always plenty to hate about NFL officiating, so we will only focus on the plays on the field, not the refs.

Three plays to love

2nd Quarter 3:57 – Panthers 7, Saints 21. Saints ball 2nd-and-4 at NO 34

The Situation: With the second quarter winding down, the Saints offense was rolling after having scored touchdowns on their previous two possessions. Now leading 21-7, the Saints were looking for a knockout punch going into the half.

The Play: Josh Hill caught a pass for a first down, but Mike Adams channeled his inner Peanut Tillman to literally punch the ball loose. Luke Kuechly recovered the fumble at the New Orleans 45. Four plays later, Christian McCaffrey scored a 21-yard touchdown to trim the Saints lead to 21-14 at halftime.

2nd Quarter 1:11 – Panthers 14, Saints 21. Saints ball 2nd-and-10 at CAR 43

The Situation: Following McCaffrey’s touchdown, the Saints quickly drove past midfield and were nearing field goal range. Giving up additional points before the half would have been demoralizing to the Panthers

The Play: Mario Addison bull rushed right through his blocker and almost immediately wrapped up Drew Brees’ legs. Addison sacked Brees for a seven yard loss, pushing the Saints behind the 50 and forcing a 3rd-and-17. The Saints could not convert, and were forced to punt.

4th Quarter 10:39 – Panthers 14, Saints 28. Saints ball 2nd-and-1 at NO 16

The Situation: New Orleans took possession early in the fourth quarter, looking to add to their 14-point lead.

The Play: Facing 2nd-and-1 from their own 16, the Saints decided to get cute. Instead of attempting to run for the first down, New Orleans drew up a play action pass. Kyle Love read the play perfectly, drew a bead on Drew Brees, and sacked the Saints quarterback for a 10-yard loss. New Orleans now faced 3rd-and-11 from their own six yard line. They failed to convert, and were forced to punt from their own end zone. Unfortunately, Love’s potentially momentum-shifting sack was wasted by Kaelin Clay (see below).

Three plays to hate

2nd Quarter 10:39 – Panthers 7, Saints 14. Panthers ball 4th-and-4 at CAR 31 (Panthers Punt)

The Situation: After a lightning fast Saints touchdown to go up 14-7, Devin Funchess dropped a potential first down to force a deflating Panthers three-and-out. Just when it seemed things couldn’t get worse, they got worse.

The Play: Punter Michael Palardy caught the snap then inexplicably dropped the ball as he went to punt. The Saints recovered the fumble at the Carolina 31. New Orleans converted the possession into a touchdown with assistance from a Julius Peppers unnecessary roughness penalty on what would have been a third down stop. After Carolina’s gaffes, the Saints now led 21-7.

4th Quarter 11:26 – Panthers 14, Saints 28. Panthers ball 3rd-and-6 at NO 12

The Situation: The Panthers trailed by 14 in the fourth quarter and had moved into the red zone. Needing two touchdowns, Carolina was in four-down territory.

The Play: On 3rd-and-6, Devin Funchess ran a quick slant and got separation from his defender. Cam Newton’s pass to an open Funchess was a bit high, but definitely catchable, and Funchess simply dropped the ball for what likely would have been a first down. Then, on the crucial 4th-and-6, Funchess ran a five-yard out route. Despite making the catch, Funchess came up a yard short and the Panthers turned the ball over on downs. Funchess absolutely has to get past the sticks on that route. Coming up without points on this drive was a backbreaker.

4th Quarter 9:08 – Panthers 14, Saints 28. Saints ball 4th-and-12 at NO 5

The Situation: After a potential game-changing sack by Kyle Love (above), the Saints were forced to punt from their own end zone. The Panthers trailed by 14 with time running out, and their offense now had a chance to chip into the Saints lead.

The Play: Last week’s punt return hero, Kaelin Clay, caught the punt, made a move, and got the ball punched out from behind. The Saints recovered the fumble near midfield, squashing the Panthers last legitimate chance to finally reduce New Orleans’ lead to one score. Game. Over.

Closing it out and summing it up

This is what happens when a very good offense faces a very average offense. The Saints were able to consistently church out yards, make plays, and put points on the board.

After the Panthers promising opening drive, consisting of 10 plays for 75 yards and a touchdown, Carolina’s offense was abysmal. Check out their next seven drives:

  • 3 plays, 3 yards
  • 3 plays, 5 yards
  • 3 plays, 6 yards
  • 3 plays, 9 yards
  • 4 plays, 45 yards, touchdown
  • 2 plays, 4 yards (end of half)
  • 3 plays, -5 yards

After the Panthers opening touchdown drive (and excluding the drive to end the half), five of their next six possessions were three-and-outs and yielded a net of just 18 yards. That’s just a brutal, brutal, brutal stretch, especially when facing an offense like New Orleans’.

Carolina’s defense – normally the team’s calling card – looked weirdly slow and indecisive in this game. Several Saints ball carriers made Panthers linebackers and defensive backs appear to be wearing shoes made out of cement on the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” day. Both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram were juking defenders and breaking tackles all game.

Special teams doomed the Panthers in this one. Palardy’s fumbled punt and Clay’s muff were just killers.

Another concern is the inability of the Carolina coaching staff to make halftime adjustments. Last week against the Jets, the Panthers only scored seven points in the second half before kicking a meaningless field goal with 25 seconds left. Against the Saints, Carolina scored just seven second half points, and those came in what was basically garbage time with the Panthers trailing 31-14 with less than four minutes left. With as bereft as the Panthers are at the skill positions, they must get better offensive schemes and more creative play calling from Mike Shula. Carolina receivers rarely seem to be truly open. Almost every yard gained is a painful slog.

The Panthers are a pretty good team, but the better team clearly one this game.

“P2L, P2H” season leaders

Plays to Love:

7 PTL - Devin Funchess

6 PTL – Cam Newton

3 PTL – Christian McCaffrey, Julius Peppers, Luke Kuechly, Mario Addison, Mike Adams, Mike Shula

2 PTL – Captain Munnerlyn, Kawann Short, Kyle Love, Wes Horton

1 PTL – Charles Johnson, Curtis Samuel, Daryl Williams, Daryl Worley, Ed Dickson, Fozzy Whittaker, Graham Gano, JULIO JONES (ATL), Kaelin Clay, Matt Kalil, Russell Shepard, Shaq Thompson, Thomas Davis, Trai Turner, Tyler Larsen

Plays to Hate:

6 PTH – Cam Newton

4 PTH – Jonathan Stewart, Luke Kuechly

3 PTH – Mike Adams, Ron Rivera

2 PTH - Captain Munnerlyn, Curtis Samuel, Devin Funchess, Kevon Seymour, Kurt Coleman, Shaq Thompson

1 PTH - Andrew Gachkar, Christian McCaffrey, Daryl Williams, Daryl Worley, Graham Gano, James Bradberry, Kaelin Clay, Matt Kalil, Michael Palardy, Mike Shula, Russell Shepard, Trai Turner, Tyler Larsen


Which Play to Hate had the biggest impact on the Panthers loss?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    2nd Quarter - Palardy fumbles punt, Saints convert with TD
    (169 votes)
  • 20%
    4th Quarter - Funchess drops 3rd down pass, falls 1-yard short on 4th down catch
    (58 votes)
  • 21%
    4th Quarter - Kaelin Clay fumbles punt
    (63 votes)
290 votes total Vote Now