Last week the Panthers playoffs hopes were eliminated, so Week 18 was all about pride as Carolina faced their division rivals New Orleans Saints. It was an overall weird game where the Saints kept stumbling in the red zone while the Panthers struggled to move the ball. It all culminated with Eddy Pineiro’s game-winning 42-yard field goal for a 10-7 Carolina win. Here are five key stats behind the Panthers satisfying victory:
-3 yards - The Saints led 7-0 midway through the second quarter and had driven down to the Carolina 20 yard line. New Orleans faced fourth-and-1 and instead of kicking a field goal they went for it on an Alvin Kamara run. Frankie Luvu added another huge play to his 2022 highlight reel by crashing through the line and dropping Kamara for a three yard loss and a turnover on downs. Every point mattered in this low-scoring affair, and Luvu likely prevented a Saints score.
1 fumble recovery - The Saints had driven down to the Carolina 36 with just 16 seconds left in the first half. It looked like they would tack at least a field goal to add to their 7-0 lead. Chris Olave caught a pass and advanced to the 24 when CJ Henderson stripped the ball. Xavier Woods recovered and kept the Panthers deficit at just seven points at halftime.
14 plays, 82 yards - The Panthers offense was atrocious through the first two quarters going punt, punt, punt, interception, and a kneel down to end the half. But Carolina received the kickoff to start the third quarter and efficiently marched the ball down the field on a 14-play, 82-yard drive that ended with a bizarre and fortunate touchdown. Sam Darnold was stripped at the one yard line and the ball rolled into the end zone where backup offensive lineman Michael Jordan pounced on it for a touchdown. The game was now tied 7-7.
13 yards - The Saints missed a long field goal with 1:20 left in a 7-7 game which gave the Panthers possession at their own 45. On the first play of the drive Sam Darnold was sacked for a three yard loss to set up second-and-13. On the next play it looked like Darnold was going to get sacked for a huge loss, but he somehow shook off the would-be tackler, rolled left, found an opening, and sprinted 13 yards down the sideline for a first down at the New Orleans 45. Darnold evading this sack and picking up some chunk yards set up the game-winning field goal.
32 net passing yards - Sam Darnold had played fairly well over the last couple of weeks, but in this game he reminded Panthers fans why he isn’t the go-forward quarterback. Sam was just 5-of-15 passing for 43 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. Throw in two sacks for 11 yards and Carolina had just 32 net passing yards. I would honestly be fine with Darnold returning next year as the backup quarterback, provided the contract is reasonable, but this was a disappointing way to end an otherwise fairly good season from Darnold.
Before the season I predicted the Panthers would go 7-10, and that’s right where they ended up. But when I made that prediction it was done with the assumption that Matt Rhule, Baker Mayfield, Christian McCaffrey, and Robbie Anderson would all be playing key parts in the Panthers season. Boy was I wrong there!
I’m proud of how the 2022 Carolina Panthers persevered after their brutal 1-4 start to the season and the firing of Matt Rhule. Credit to interim head coach Steve Wilkes for not just holding the team together, but making it demonstrably better by going 6-6 while at the helm. A 7-10 season in light of all of the turmoil and uneven quarterback play should leave Panthers fans optimistic about the future.