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Big Mo: Dan Arnold was clutch in the Panthers’ Week 2 win over the Saints

Let’s look at the biggest plays in swinging momentum in the victory over the Saints.

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

The Big Mo series highlights the plays (or series of plays) that had the biggest impact on swinging the Panthers win percentage as calculated by ESPN. In Week 2 the Panthers simply dominated an undermanned Saints team to go to 2-0 on the season. Here are the plays that shifted momentum in the Panthers win against their NFC South rival.


For the second week in a row the win percentage trended on something of a straight line heading toward 100% for Carolina. The Panthers came into the game as underdogs but quickly seized momentum and never looked back. This is a beautiful chart for any given week, but it’s especially sweet coming against the Saints.

First quarter 12:07 - Panthers 7, Saints 0

Carolina scores a quick touchdown (32% to 53% Panthers win percentage): The Panthers entered the game as underdogs with just a 32% expected win percentage. Carolina got the ball to start the game and quickly marched down the field. Brandon Zylstra hauled in a 20-yard touchdown on the fifth play of the game for a 7-0 lead, sparking a huge momentum shift and making the Panthers the favorite to win the game (above 50% win percentage).

First quarter 6:56 - Panthers 7, Saints 0

Panthers punt from New Orleans 43-yard line (62% to 54%): After Carolina’s offense scored on its first possession, the Panthers defense forced a punt. On Carolina’s second possession the team faced a fourth-and-2 from the New Orleans 43, near field goal range. Coach Matt Rhule elected to play it safe and punt the ball, pinning the Saints at the 10-yard line. The decision swung Carolina’s win percentage from over 60% to something closer to a 50-50 proposition.

Second quarter 12:39 - Panthers 7, Saints 0

Dan Arnold gets 19 on second-and-20 (60% to 75%): Carolina had the ball at the New Orleans 17 when Cameron Erving was called for a hold, setting up a second-and-20 from the New Orleans 27. In a play that’s easy to forget because it won’t show up on SportsCenter (if anyone even watches that anymore), Dan Arnold hauled in a 19-yard gain to the New Orleans 8-yard line. This play set up a chip shot field goal from the 2-yard line for a 10-0 Panthers lead and a 75% win percentage.

Second quarter 3:24 - Panthers 10, Saints 0

Dan Arnold gets Carolina into the red zone (71% to 93%): The Darnold-to-Arnold connection delivered another second quarter momentum-shifting play. The Panthers faced second-and-10 from the New Orleans 25 and a stalled drive here would result in a 40-plus yard field goal attempt from brand new kicker Zane Gonzalez, who would later have a field goal blocked and miss an extra point. There are no sure things with the Panthers 2021 kicking carousel. But Dan Arnold came up with a clutch 17-yard gain to the New Orleans 8-yard line. Three plays later DJ Moore scored a touchdown for a 17-0 Panthers lead, virtually putting the game away before halftime with a 93% win percentage.

Third quarter 8:40 - Panthers 17, Saints 0

Zane Gonzalez’s blocked field goal (95% to 82%): Carolina’s stout defense forced a three-and-out to start the third quarter, giving Sam Darnold the ball and a 17-point lead early in the second half. The Panthers drove down to the New Orleans 25 but on third down Darnold got sacked for a 7-yard loss. The sack forced a long field goal attempt which the Saints blocked after crashing through the Panthers offensive line. The block swung some momentum in the Saints direction, but Carolina was still firmly in control.

From there the Panthers slowly but decisively put the game away for a dominant 26-7 victory. Carolina seized momentum early in this game and never let it go.

Big Mo MVP - Dan Arnold

While the Panthers new tight end only had three receptions on the day, two of them were huge momentum shifters. Both of these receptions came in the second quarter and set up a field goal and a touchdown, respectively. Last year the Panthers got virtually zero contributions in the passing game from the tight end position. While Arnold isn’t a Pro Bowler, he should be the best receiving tight end Carolina has had since Greg Olsen’s departure.

What I liked

I was giddy over the Panthers constant pressure on Jameis Winston, causing him to revert at times to the “Bad Jameis” we all know and love. While the Panthers pass rush was a tsunami, their run defense was a brick wall. They held Alvin Kamara to five rushing yards on eight attempts! Just incredible. On offense I was pleased with Brandon Zylstra’s solid day with three receptions for 44 yards and his first career touchdown. Sam Darnold looked like a legitimate, above average quarterback, which is all the Panthers need him to be.

What I didn’t like

The kicking game, obviously, with the blocked field goal and a crucial missed extra point which would have put the Panthers up by three scores instead of two. Joey Slye, Ryan Santoso, now Zane Gonzalez. Who’s next, Jan Stenerud coming out of retirement? I was also frustrated with Carolina’s inability to establish a viable running game with backup Chuba Hubbard, who ran the ball eight times for just 10 yards. Carolina can’t keep giving Christian McCaffrey 30 touches every week without running him into the ground, but at this point Joe Brady doesn’t have any other good options.

The Panthers are 2-0 with a winnable game coming up Thursday against the Houston Texans. The season is off to a great start and hope abounds across the Carolinas! Let’s see if the Panthers red-hot momentum continues into Week 3.