Saints Send Panthers to Sixth Straight Loss, Carolina Playoff Hopes on Life Support

By Michael Vesci
Dec. 18, 2018

As quarterback Cam Newton's fourth down pass intended for Ian Thomas fell to the ground, so did the Carolina Panthers and their hopes of making the playoffs this season. The 12-9 loss against the New Orleans Saints was the team's sixth straight loss, dropping them to a record of 6-8 following a 6-2 start to the season. After the game, Newton admitted he has been dealing with a shoulder injury throughout the second half of the year after getting off to a great start. So how did it all unfold on Monday night for the Panthers to put their playoff dreams on life support?

Things started off pretty well for Carolina out of the gate as their aggressive approach on offense quickly put them in front 7-0 in an unnatural way. After Newton received the snap under center, he handed the ball off to running back Christian McCaffrey in the backfield who looked like he was going to run it to the right side. But instead of running the ball, McCaffrey threw a short pass to receiver Chris Manhertz who was wide open since the Saints had stacked the line of scrimmage and took it 50 yards for a touchdown. New Orleans would respond with a 46-yard field goal by Will Lutz to cut the lead to four and after the Panthers stopped a long drive by Drew Brees, Lutz added a 24-yard field goal to make the score 7-6 in favor of the Panthers.

But Carolina's defense was holding up strong against the potent offense of the Saints and gave their offense a chance to take control of the game. The biggest play they made was cornerback James Bradberry intercepting Drew Brees at midfield just before the two-minute warning which gave the Panthers a chance to tack on more points before the half. After Cam Newton worked the ball into the red zone to put Carolina in field goal range, he made a pass that was intended for receiver Devin Funchess in the end zone but cornerback Eli Apple got to it first for the interception. Despite that, the Panthers were headed to the locker room with a one-point lead and locked into a defensive battle with their division rival. But as expected, that red zone turnover would prove to be costly in the later stages of the game considering the position the Panthers found themselves in as time was winding down.

Like most of the first half, both teams continued to stand tall on defense and force their opponent to punt the ball. That was until a fumble by D.J. Moore on a run up the middle resulted in the Saints getting the ball back on their own 18-yard line. Just like that, New Orleans took full advantage of the turnover and drove the ball downfield in 11 plays for 84 yards which ended in an Alvin Kamara 16-yard touchdown run. In order to position themselves in a way that a Panthers' touchdown would put them in a tie, the Saints went for two. Brees threw a pass intended for his reliable receiver Michael Thomas, but it was picked off by Donte Jackson and taken to the house, giving Carolina two points and cutting the New Orleans lead to just three.

As the Saints were trying to deliver the final blow to the Panthers with a long fourth quarter drive, receiver Tommylee Lewis took the handoff from Brees and ran towards the pylon on the right side of the field before fumbling the ball out of bounds in the end zone to give the Panthers one final shot to tie or win the game. With 1:44 remaining, Carolina took over at their own 20-yard line and just seven plays later came the incompletion to Thomas which put the playoff chances of the Panthers on life support. In order for Carolina to get into the playoffs, they would have to win out, the Minnesota Vikings would have to lose out, and the Philadelphia Eagles would have to lose in Week 16 to the Houston Texans and win against the Washington Redskins in Week 17. Chances are all those things will not fall into place in a season that started off promising but has turned into an utter disappointment for the Carolina Panthers.

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