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3 plays to love, 3 plays to hate from Carolina’s 12-9 loss to the Saints

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These key plays swung momentum and decided the Panthers 12-9 home loss against the New Orleans Saints, putting Carolina’s record at 6-8.

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers
Killing of the Golden Goose
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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

1st Quarter 6:47 — Saints 0, Panthers 0. Panthers ball 3rd-and-10 at CAR 10

The Situation: After opening drives stalled for both teams, Saints punter Thomas Morstead pinned the Panthers deep in their own territory. Alarmingly, the Panthers are forced to throw the ball more than 5 yards when after two plays they find themselves facing a 3rd-and-long.

The Play: Curtis Samuel beats the Saint’s best corner (Marshon Lattimore) off the line of scrimmage on a deep in route for a 17 yard again (all air yards). Samuel does a good job holding the safeties before breaking in and finding a window. Despite contact, he holds onto the only NFL caliber ball that Cam Newton’s shoulder had in it Monday night. This play was important for several reasons. First, it kept a drive alive that would have otherwise resulted in a Panthers punt from their own endzone, and second, this drive ended in a touchdown for the Panthers — the only points their offense would score on the night.

1st Quarter 4:13 — Saints 0, Panthers 0. Panthers ball 4th-and-2 at midfield

The Situation: Later on in the same drive as our first “play to love,” Ron Rivera elects to go for it on a 4th-and 2 at midfield. I love it already.

The Play: Christian McCaffrey takes a hand-off from Cam Newton, but instead of running the ball he throws it to a wide-open Chris “Martinez” Manhertz for a 50-yard touchdown. With the Panthers defense showing up, at least to this point, taking a 7-0 lead in BOA Stadium on Monday Night Football against an 11-2 Saints team on a trick 4th down play felt like a win in itself. Unfortunately there was still 50 minutes of football to play.

1st Quarter 2:00 — Saints 6, Panthers 7. Saints ball 2nd-and-6 at CAR 47

The Situation: The Panthers were forced to punt deep in their own territory after a sloppy drive ending in a 5 yard scramble on 3rd-and-20. In a situation that Drew Brees thrives in, will the defense step up to the challenge and keep their lead going into halftime?

The Play: Drew Brees tries to fit one in to his lumbering tight end, Dan Arnold. Brees must not have read the scouting report, because Thomas Davis (excellent coverage linebacker) gets hands on Arnold early, and never gives him any room. The ensuing pass is batted up in the air by Davis, and a trailing James Bradberry picks it out of the air for a crucial interception, which he returns for 27 yards to the Saints’ 40 yard line.

Editor’s Note:

Yes, Donte Jackson’s sort-of-interception for a 2-point score should be here, but it doesn’t fit muh narrative, and to my surprise, I had already encountered far more than three plays that were easy to love by the time that play happened. So deal with it.

Three plays to hate

1st Quarter 4:02 — Saints 0, Panthers 7. Panthers kicking off to Saints

The Situation: Right after the Panthers took a meaningful 7 point lead, the kick coverage unit must mitigate any cheap return yardage to get the Saints off the field and maintain their touchdown lead.

The Play: Alvin Kamara catches the kickoff about a yard deep in his endzone. He doesn’t have to change his straight line course until about the 25 yard line, making one guy miss without slowing down, forcing the Panthers kicker to wedge him out on the right sideline at the Saints’ 49-yard line. This play more or less assured them points after a 20+ yard Mark Ingram run where he bounced two of the Panthers’ DBs off the carpet. The Saints kicked a FG at the end of the drive, and this cheap 3-point swing might have been the difference in the game.

2nd Quarter 0:18 — Saints 6, Panthers 7. Panthers ball 2nd-and-3 at NO 14

The Situation: After a seemingly tide-turning Bradberry interception, the offense has moved the ball another 25 yards and is in the redzone. With one timeout in their pocket and 18 seconds left, you might like to see Panthers Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner elect to dance with the girl who brung him there ( in McCaffrey).

The Play: Instead Norv elects to try fade route to a disenfranchised Devin Funchess. Saints cornerback Eli Apple easily beats Funchess to the spot and makes a routine interception on what could have been a slightly under-thrown ball by Cam Newton. This stripped the Panthers of the momentum they gained from the Davis/Bradberry interception. Fortunately this play more or less ended the 1st half so Brees did not have time to retaliate before getting the ball back at the beginning of the third quarter.

3rd Quarter 3:34 — Saints 6, Panthers 7. Panthers ball 1st-and-10 at midfield

The Situation: The Panthers forced a Saints punt after a time consuming drive to open the half. Starting from their own 15 yard line, the Panthers scratched and clawed forward, finding themselves at midfield 6 plays later.

The Play: DJ Moore takes an inside hand-off from Newton (looked a lot like the play Cleveland burned the Panthers with several times the week prior). Moore races through the line and into the secondary. By all accounts this is going to be a huge play for the Panthers. 25 yards down-field, the rookie is chased down by safety Von Bell, who Peanut Punches the ball free. The fumble is easily recovered by linebacker A.J. Klein.

Closing it out and summing it up

As for this game? It was the same as the others: The Panthers make the worst mistakes they possibly can at the worst possible times, and have been the worst team in the league over the last six or eight weeks because of this propensity.

Mistakes are mistakes, and if you haven’t already, you should probably learn to live with them (be they yours’ or someone else’s). However, when conscious decisions are made that produce negative-outcomes, then you have a larger problem. The Panthers’ larger problems, right now, are: Lack of effort. Lack of tackling and route effort, specifically. Lack of preparation. Lack of continuity. Lack of aggression on both sides of the ball. And finally, a badly injured franchise QB who’s head coach is electing to further damage in order to grasp onto every remaining straw of job security...

And because the Panthers aren’t mathematically eliminated yet somehow, Ron Rivera will still trot a badly injured Cam Newton out there for the remainder of the season because apparently 8-8 might be enough to remain head coach of the Carolina Panthers. This happened, perhaps just as blatantly, at the end of the 2016 season as well. The result of playing an injured Cam Newton for personal gain resulted in a contract extension for Ron Rivera, despite a 6-10 finish, so why think this time will be any different?

Editor’s Correction:

David Tepper finally took Ron’s blanket. Cam Newton will sit the final two games of the season. Two to three weeks late is better than never.

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Plays to love season leaders

6 - Christian McCaffrey

5 - D.J. Moore

3 - Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, James Bradberry

2 - Chris Clark, Devin Funchess, Efe Obada, Kyle Love, Ryan Kalil, Torrey Smith,

1 - Ben Jacobs, Colin Jones, David Mayo, Donte Jackson, Eric Reid, Graham Gano, Greg Van Roten, Jarius Wright, Julius Peppers, Kawann Short, Luke Kuechly, Mario Addison, Michael Palardy, Norv Turner, Ron Rivera, Taylor Heinicke, Wes Horton, Chris Manhertz, Curtis Samuel, Thomas Davis

Plays to hate season leaders

7 - Cam Newton

4 - Eric Reid, James Bradberry, Mike Adams

3 - DJ Moore

2 - Captain Munnerlyn, Christian McCaffrey, Dontari Poe, Donte Jackson, Eric Washington, Graham Gano, Devin Funchess

1 - Amini Silatolu, C.J. Anderson, Chris Clark, Colin Jones, Corn Elder, Ian Thomas, Luke Kuechly, Norv Turner, Ron Rivera, Thomas Davis, Trai Turner, Special Teams - Kick Coverage Unit