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Panthers 31 Saints 34: Three plays to love, three plays to hate

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These key plays swung momentum and decided the Panthers 34-31 road loss against the New Orleans Saints, putting Carolina’s record at 5-6. 

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Plays to Love, Plays to Hate 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.

Let’s review how the Carolina Panthers lost what was truly a must-win game with their 34-31 road loss against the New Orleans Saints

Three plays to love

1st Quarter 3:16 – Panthers 0, Saints 14. Panthers ball 1st-and-10 at CAR 49

The Situation: The start of this game was a complete disaster. Carolina trailed 14-0 less than 10 minutes into the start of the first quarter. A punt here from Kyle Allen and Co. would give the Saints a chance to put the game out of reach before it even got started.

The Play: DJ Moore lined up wide left, burst off the line, then made a very subtle shoulder fake to the inside. The Saints cornerback bit just enough on the fake to allow Moore to turn on the jets on a streak. Kyle Allen launched a bomb and hit Moore in the end zone for a 51-yard score. Moore has struggled to deliver on the deep ball this year so this quick-strike score was huge for the Panthers.

2nd Quarter 0:03 – Panthers 9, Saints 17. Panthers ball 3rd-and-Goal at NO 1

The Situation: The Panthers had one last play to punch it in from the one yard line before the end of the half. Trailing by eight points, they absolutely needed a touchdown.

The Play: Norv Turner dialed up a nice play design. Kyle Allen faked a handoff to Alex Armah as Christian McCaffrey snuck out of the backfield into the left flat. Despite being the most dangerous receiving back in the NFL, CMC went unaccounted for by the Saints and scored on a walk-in receiving touchdown. After failing on the two-point conversion, the Panthers now only trailed 17-15 at the half.

4th Quarter 12:38 – Panthers 24, Saints 31. Saints ball 3rd-and-15 at NO 29

The Situation: Early in the fourth quarter the Panthers defense had already surrendered 31 points and Carolina trailed by seven. After forcing the Saints into a 3rd-and-15, the Panthers needed a big stop to give the offense a chance to tie the game.

The Play: Drew Brees forced a deep pass over the middle. Tre Boston read the play perfectly from the deep safety position. Boston broke on the ball seemingly before Brees released it and came up with a huge interception at the 50. The good starting field position allowed the Panthers offense to put together a touchdown drive and tie the game at 31.

Three plays to hate

1st Quarter 11:37 – Panthers 0, Saints 0. Saints ball 3rd-and-11 at NO 44

The Situation: The Saints got the ball to start the game. The Panthers defense forced New Orleans into a 3rd-and-11 and a stop here would force a punt and make a bold statement on the game’s first possession.

The Play: Drew Brees dropped back to pass, stood in the pocket, and looked for a receiver. Nobody was open so Brees patiently remained in the pocket and looked...and looked...and looked...and looked some more. Brees had enough time to assemble Ikea furniture before finally connecting with Ted Ginn for an easy 30-yard pickup. Just horrible pressure from the Panthers pass rush. Instead of punting, the Saints got the first down then scored a 26-yard touchdown on the very next play.

1st Quarter 6:52 – Panthers 0, Saints 7. Saints punt at NO 22.

The Situation: The Saints opened the game with a touchdown followed by the Panthers going three and out. Carolina’s defense then forced New Orleans into a three and out of their own.

The Play: DJ Moore was back to return the punt. Rashaan Gaulden was blocking a Saints gunner and crashed into Moore as the ball arrived. The ball glanced off Gaulden’s leg and the Saints recovered the live ball at the Carolina 27. Drew Brees and Co. scored a touchdown four plays after Gaulden’s gift. This was a devastating sequence as the Panthers now faced an early 14-0 hole against one of the league’s most proficient offenses.

4th Quarter 2:00 – Panthers 31, Saints 31. Panthers 28-yard FG attempt

The Situation: The Panthers churned out an 11-play drive to attempt a 28-yard chip shot field goal to take a three-point lead with just two minutes left in the game.

The Play: Joey Slye flat out choked and shanked the go-ahead field goal. The score remained tied and the Saints took possession for a final chance to win, which is exactly what they did.

Closing it out and summing it up

The Panthers should’ve won this game, and it would’ve been a statement win. A victory and a 6-5 record would’ve kept hope alive but at 5-6 the season’s basically over. The only point in playing out the string is to get an extended look at Kyle Allen.

Special teams just killed the Panthers in this one. A muffed punt. Two missed extra points. A shanked 28-yard go-ahead field goal. Joey Slye had us longing for the good ol’ days of Graham Gano. Few teams can beat the Saints in New Orleans after those types of self-destructive plays.

On offense, kudos to Kyle Allen (23 of 36, 256 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT) for showing out. The Panthers young quarterback was pressured most of the day but kept his poise, showed good pocket awareness, and delivered accurate balls. DJ Moore (6 receptions, 126 yards, 2 TD) was exceptional and Christian McCaffrey (133 total yards, 2 TD) continues to dominate the NFL.

On defense, the Panthers ability to stop the run is embarrassingly bad and they gave up 18 rushes for 118 yards (6.6 yards per carry). The vaunted Carolina pass rush produced just two sacks and rarely pressured Drew Brees. Eric Reid had 15 tackles (great!) but got absolutely lost in pass coverage about 15 times as well (not so great!) And is it just me, or is Luke Kuechly losing a step and showing a pattern of struggling to shed blockers?

This one hurt.


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

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    1st quarter - Drew Brees hits Ted Ginn for 30 on 3rd-and-11; the Saints score on the next play for a 7-0 lead.
    (9 votes)
  • 35%
    1st quarter - Rashaan Gaulden’s punt return disaster leads to a 14-0 Saints lead.
    (92 votes)
  • 60%
    4th quarter - Joey Slye misses a go-ahead 28-yard field goal with two minutes left.
    (155 votes)
256 votes total Vote Now