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NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - INSIDE SLANT
Things like this happen, especially in New Orleans in prime time. And while the Carolina Panthers were riding an eight-game win streak coming into their nationally televised affair Sunday night, it was Carolina's turn to face the buzz saw that is Drew Brees and the Saints.
The Panthers' longest regular-season win streak in franchise history ended with a resounding thud that came in the form of a 31-13 loss.
"This was a very humbling experience and maybe we needed a little bit of that," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Monday. "Maybe we got a little full of ourselves and thought we were capable of just showing up."
Despite surrendering the most points and yards they have all season, it's not like Sunday's result means the Panthers should give up their postseason aspirations. They are likely out of the NFC South race, but as long as they don't completely collapse over their final three games, a first playoff appearance since 2008 is still there for the taking.
"It's very frustrating, but it's not the end of the world," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "We're sitting at 9-4 right now, and everything we set out to accomplish is still right ahead of us."
Before a rematch with the Saints, the Panthers will host the Jets this Sunday, and Rivera stressed to his team that they need to learn from their bad night in New Orleans without looking too far ahead at getting their possible revenge in Week 16.
And the Panthers certainly have a lot to learn from after Brees and Co. rolled through them. Carolina had not given up more than two touchdowns to a team all season. New Orleans scored four. The Panthers had only given up two first-half touchdowns in their first 12 games. The Saints scored three touchdowns in the second quarter.
Carolina had outscored its opponents 211-99 during its eight straight wins, but the good feelings dissipated a bit Sunday night. And while it was an embarrassing effort in front of a national audience, the Panthers hope to turn it into a positive.
"We lost. I don't feel good about that, but I feel good that we can learn from this and get a little bit revitalized," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "You win eight in a row, and everything is peaches and cream every Monday. But when you lose, you get reminded of all your little faults. That might not be bad for us."
NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - NOTES, QUOTES
--Running back Jonathan Stewart suffered an MCL tear in the third quarter of Sunday's loss. Stewart and the Panthers are holding out hope he can play again this season, but the feeling is he will be out until Week 17, at best.
Since signing a six-year contract extension before the 2012 season, Stewart has totaled 342 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games. He suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 12 last year, and after offseason surgeries on both his ankles, he spent the first seven games of this season on the PUP list.
His latest setback occurred when he took a direct hit to the knee from Keenan Lewis. It was a clean hit by the Saints cornerback, but it made Carolina head coach Ron Rivera wonder aloud Monday if it was another injury that was perhaps caused by recent league rule changes.
"Is the concern about the hits to the head such a big thing that the targets are being lowered? That's something that's probably going to have to be looked at as far as the league is concerned to see what's happening and what we can do to help these guys," Rivera said.
"We have lowered the strike zone. It's kind of like baseball with pitchers getting squeezed big time and now the tacklers are getting squeezed. Hopefully, there is a solution out there and hopefully during the offseason the league will get a chance to look at that and see if they can rectify that."
--The Panthers came into Sunday night with an 86.8 scoring percentage in the red zone, the fourth-best percentage in the league. But when they had to settle for field goals after each of their first two possessions reached the red zone, they missed two vital chances to build up a lead against the potent Saints.
"We had two great opportunities, two great field positions that we just didn't capitalize on," quarterback Cam Newton said. "When you are playing a team like this, field goals aren't going to cut it. We know that."
--Before Sunday night, the Panthers led the NFL in red-zone defense with a 32.1 red-zone touchdown percentage. But after allowing opponents to score touchdowns on just 9 of 28 red-zone trips in their previous 12 games, Carolina allowed the Saints to convert four of their five opportunities into touchdowns.
--The Panthers did not force a turnover, snapping their league-high takeaway streak at 16 games.
NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--QB Cam Newton, who wasn't sacked in Week 13, was sacked five times by the Saints, all on third down.
--TE Greg Olsen caught eight of his team-high 12 targets, but he only gained 40 yards.
--WR Brandon LaFell had two receptions for 22 yards. His 45 catches this season are a single-season best for the fourth-year wideout.
--WR Steve Smith led the Panthers with 49 receiving yards on six receptions, including his first touchdown since Week 7.
--LB Chase Blackburn, who had been out since Week 11 with a foot injury, played 25 snaps and made one tackle in his return to the starting lineup.
--K Graham Gano, who had made 18 of his 20 field-goal attempts before Sunday, made his first two attempts against the Saints, but then missed a 49-yarder in the third quarter.
--RB Jonathan Stewart suffered an MCL tear and is likely out until the regular-season finale, at best.
--DE Charles Johnson, who missed Carolina's last two games with a sprained knee, returned to the starting lineup and made two tackles and was held without a sack in 51 snaps.
--LB Jordan Senn was inactive with a hamstring injury he suffered in Week 13.
--G Chris Scott, who has been out since Week 10 with an MCL injury, is expected to return to practice this week.
REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS
PASSING OFFENSE: F -- The Panthers' passing offense had a total of 34 net yards in the first half and they were not effective until a garbage-time drive ended with a 17-yard pass from QB Cam Newton to WR Steve Smith. Newton was sacked five times, the most he has gone down since the Cardinals got him seven times in the Panthers last loss before their eight-game win streak.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D-plus -- RB DeAngelo Williams returned after missing a game with a bruised quad and mustered 52 yards on nine carries. RB Jonathan Stewart provided a spark in the third quarter, but then left after suffering an MCL tear.
PASS DEFENSE: F -- New Orleans QB Drew Brees exposed Carolina's suspect secondary, completing 30 of his 42 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns. The Panthers defensive line failed to pressure Brees, who made 41 attempts before he was sacked for a loss.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Since they were having so much success through the air, the Saints did not have to rush much. They gained 69 yards on 17 carries, with a big chunk coming on a 38-yard run by RB Darren Sproles that sparked their first touchdown drive.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- K Graham Gano, who opened the Panthers' scoring with two field goals, missed a 49-yarder in the third quarter. Returner Ted Ginn set up the Panthers second field goal with a 32-yard return.
COACHING: D -- The Panthers were blown out in New Orleans in prime time, something that has happened to many good teams many times. But head coach Ron Rivera perhaps had the Panthers feeling a little too confident and they were sent back down to earth with a thud. Rivera eschewed his aggressive fourth-down play calls that accentuated his team's eight-game win streak by sending K Graham Gano out for a field goal with the Panthers down 21-6 and facing a fourth-and-6 at the Saints 31 in the third quarter. Gano ended up missing the field goal.