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Big Mo: How the Panthers ship continued to sink in a Week 17 loss to the Saints

Let’s look at the biggest plays in swinging momentum in the Panthers Week 17 defeat in New Orleans.

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

The Big Mo series highlights the plays (or series of plays) that had the biggest impact on swinging the Panthers win probability as calculated by ESPN. In Week 17 Carolina came in as underdogs but played well enough to have a positive win probability throughout much of the second quarter. Alas, as we’ve seen many times before under Matt Rhule, the Panthers played a very flat second half and ultimately lost 18-10.

ESPN

Here are the most impactful plays as the Panthers dropped their 11th game in their last 13 outings.

Second quarter 13:21 - Panthers 3, Saints 3

Chuba’s sleek touchdown run (45% to 63% Panthers win probability): In a 3-3 ballgame early in the second quarter, Chuba Hubbard took a pitch right and found a seam for a 21-yard touchdown run. There were some really nice blocks by Pat Elflein, John Miller, Taylor Moton, and Ian Thomas to spring him for the score. The Panthers took a 10-3 lead and saw their win probability jump 18 points to 63%.

Second quarter 1:14 - Panthers 10, Saints 6

Callaway gets 28 on third-and-11 (61% to 49% Panthers win probability): The Panthers smothering run defense had pinned the Saints offense into a third-and-11 from their own three yard line. With 1:14 left in the half Matt Rhule understandably called a timeout to preserve time in the event the Saints would be punting from their own end zone. But on third down Marquez Callaway high pointed a catch over Keith Taylor for a first down. The Saints ultimately converted the drive into a field goal and a 10-9 Panthers lead at the half. If Carolina’s defense had forced a punt instead of surrendering a first down, perhaps the Panthers could’ve put some more points on the board.

Third quarter 0:35 - Panthers 10, Saints 12

A big first down but a missed field goal (44% to 33% Panthers win probability): The Panthers had the ball facing third-and-5 from the 50. Sam Darnold dropped to pass, felt pressure, and sprinted right to buy time. Terrace Marshall saw Darnold scrambling and broke off his route to come back toward his quarterback. Darnold threw a really nice ball on the run and Marshall toe-tapped along the sideline to haul in an eight-yard reception for a first down. But the drive ended in disappointment when Lirim Hajrullahu pushed a 47-yard field goal attempt wide right. A made field goal would have given the Panthers a one-point lead with 12:09 left to play.

Fourth quarter 6:23 - Panthers 10, Saints 18

Chinn’s sack and Brown’s tackle for loss (6% to 22% Panthers win probability): The Panthers had to punt trailing by eight points with 6:23 left in the game. When the Saints took possession, Jeremy Chinn flew in on first down for a huge seven-yard sack. On second down Derrick Brown broke through to drop Alvin Kamara for a three-yard loss. New Orleans didn’t convert on third-and-20 and were forced to punt, giving Carolina the ball back down by eight points with 4:06 left. This was a terrific series by the defense to give the offense a chance to tie the game late and give the Panthers a sliver of hope with a 22% win probability.

Fourth quarter 1:00 - Panthers 10, Saints 18

Darnold gets sacked and picked (9% to 1% Panthers win probability): The Panthers had the ball at their own 41 with one minute remaining in the game trailing 18-10. They needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie. On first-and-10 Cam Jordan beat John Miller for a 10-yard sack (Jordan had 3.5 sacks on the day) forcing a difficult second-and-20 from the 31. On the next play Sam Darnold forced a deep pass that was intercepted. Game over.

Big Mo MVP - The Panthers defensive front

What an incredible performance from Carolina’s defensive front. They held Alvin Kamara to 13 carries for 32 yards. But when looking deeper at the numbers, Kamara had a 30-yard run in the second half, meaning his other 12 carries went for just two yards! Fellow Saints ballcarriers Adam Prentice, Tony Jones Jr., and Ty Montgomery combined for three rushes for -4 yards. Excluding Kamara’s 30-yard burst, the rest of the carries from running backs were 15 carries for -2 yards. That has to be one of the most impressive performances from this year’s Panthers run defense.

Individually, Frankie Luvu was credited with nine total tackles with five of them being for a loss or no gain, per PFF. I’ve expressed my football love for Luvu many times in this column throughout the year, and in this game he had me positively swooning. Luvu had better be back in Carolina next season.

What I liked

  • Sam Darnold looking calm and in control early by starting 9-for-9 passing. It was the most consecutive completions to begin a game in his career.
  • Watching Cam Newton celebrate on the sidelines with his teammates and even joke with Matt Rhule despite taking just one snap on the day. What a pro.
  • Bravvion Roy and Frankie Luvu combining to blow up a Ty Montgomery run for a four-yard loss in the second quarter

What I didn’t like

  • Early in the game FOX commentator and former Detroit Lions general manager Matt Millen essentially endorsed Matt Rhule’s rebuild process. Given Millen’s lackluster front office record with the Lions, I don’t think that’s an endorsement the Panthers embattled coach wants to receive.
  • Watching FOX’s broadcasters eat turducken on live TV. I know it was a well-intentioned John Madden tribute, but that was a pretty disgusting viewing experience.
  • I literally cackled early in the fourth quarter when the FOX announcers called out Brady Christensen’s good play then added that Matt Rhule is really high on Christensen’s future. Really? I guess being “really high” on a rookie means regularly starting below average vets over him and doing everything possible to play him out of his natural position.

Carolina’s 2-11 stretch over their last 13 games has been one of the most boring, uncompelling, and hope-destroying stretches I’ve experienced as a long-time fan of this franchise. Usually under these circumstances I can at least start pumping myself up for the draft, but Carolina has already “invested” their second, third, and fourth round picks in Sam Darnold and C.J. Henderson. Let’s just hope they can land a franchise quarterback with their first round pick to give us at least some hope for a brighter future.

Right now, things are pretty dim.