The Carolina Panthers kicked off their 2022 season finale with a firm reminder that both Brian Burns and Matt Ioannidis were out with injuries, in addition to their top two corners being on injured reserve. They accomplished that reminder on the opening possession of the game by allowing Andy Dalton’s New Orleans Saints to march down the field and score a touchdown on an easy, eight play, 75-yard drive.
Dalton’s short-pass-turned-25-yard-touchdown to Chris Olave was a different concept from last week’s Brady-to-Evans- bombs but felt just as inevitable watching the play and was just as effective.
The first notable play for the Panthers offense was, unfortunately, an injury. Brady Christensen injured his left ankle after a running play and was carted off the field. He had played every snap of the season at left guard up until this point. He will be replaced in this game by Michael Jordan.
The Panthers first quarter saw them tally eight offensive plays over two possessions that gained 25 yards and one first down while taking 5:09 off the clock.
The Saints threatened another scoring drive as the first quarter came to a close, but the Panthers held in the opening minutes of the second quarter to force a 44-yard field goal attempt. Saints kicker Will Lutz pushed the attempt wide, ending New Orleans’ 7-play, 50-yard drive with zero points. The Panthers gained one yard on the following possession before promptly returning the ball.
The Carolina defense is going to get a lot of flack for this game, even in spite of their missing Horn, Jackson, Burns, and more, but they did come up big on a fourth and one stop deep in their own territory.And by ‘they’ I do mean Frankie Luvu.
The Panthers tried to end the half on a vintage Darnold duck that was picked off by Tyrann Mathieu. But CJ Henderson punched the ball out after getting beaten by Olave on a short route. Xavier Woods recovered the ball at the Carolina 49 with three seconds left in the half.
Darnold, who already had a 0.0 passer rating, was sacked on the hail mary attempt to finally end the half. The Panthers totaled 26 plays, 85 yards, zero points, and one turnover on offense in the first half. It is a miracle that they entered half time down only seven points.
The Panthers finally got the running game on their opening drive of the second half. Starting on second and 10, D’Onta Foreman posted consecutive runs of 21 and 11 yards. Chuba Hubbard followed up with a seven-yard run of his own. Unfortunately, the Panthers momentum led to a scuffle on the field that saw Foreman slapped in the head by Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport. Foreman retaliated and both players were ejected with personal foul penalties.
DJ Moore picked up his first catch of the day on the next play to convert on third and five to keep the drive alive. That’s important because it set up one of the silliest touchdowns in Panthers history. Darnold fumbled inches before the goal line on third and goal, the ball rolled into the endzone and a giant scrum between both teams. Jordan, still playing in Christensen’s absence, recovered the ball to tie the game for the Panthers, 7-7.
The Saints followed with a three-and-out that was keyed by two consecutive tackles by Panthers cornerback Josh Norman. Fumbles for offensive touchdowns, Norman making plays. . . why not? If the theme of 2023 football is that everything old is new again then I suppose we’d better buckle up for the Panthers hiring Ron Rivera in a couple of days. I kid, I kid. I hope I kid.
The next Saints possession showed significant momentum, including a fourth and one that was converted on a spot challenge. The drive ultimately stalled out after Amare Barno sacked Andy Dalton for ten yards on a third and nine to push the Saints back across midfield.
The rest of the game was a series of punts and turnovers that fit a senselessly exciting game to decide second place in the NFC South. A Darnold interception put the Saints into field goal range with the game still tied 7-7 and fewer than two minutes remaining in the game. Lutz pushed another field goal attempt, this time a 54-yarder, wide. The Panthers got the ball back at the Carolina 45.
Once again, Darnold opened a drive by taking a sack but he converted the first down off of a scramble on second and thirteen. The Beard giveth and the Beard taketh as it sees fit, apparently.
The next successful play was a big, 21-yard pass to Terrace Marshall Jr—who was apparently active today—to get down to the New Orleans 24 yard line. Panthers kicker Eddy Piñeiro attempted a 42-yard field goal. The attempt was good as time expired to give the Panthers their first lead of the day and the win, 10-7.
This win did two things definitively: it gave Wilks more wins in a partial season (six in 12 games) than Matt Rhule ever had in a whole one (five in 17) and it cemented the fact that Darnold, for all his professionalism, is going to make a great back-up quarterback for the rest of his NFL career.