League MVP hopeful Christian McCaffrey has been impressive all year, but coming into the Superdome in a divisional matchup always takes a tremendous effort to pull out a victory. Victory was the goal for the 5-5 Panthers, who have had an up and down season but are desperate for a win in the highly competitive NFC Wild Card chase.
New Orleans enters with a three game lead over carolina in the NFC South, but their sights are set much higher than another divisional crown. The one-loss San Francisco 49ers are a game ahead of New Orleans for the #1 seed in the NFC, but San Francisco’s schedule to close out the season gets a lot harder, including when they take a trip to New Orleans next week themselves. A Saints win over carolina would setup a matchup next week between the 49ers and Saints which would give the winner control of the #1 seed in the NFC.
This is the first meeting of the season for these two divisional foes, who will meet again to close out the regular season in week 17.
The Saints are coming in off of a convincing win in Tampa over the Bucs, which was a great way to get their swagger back after a shocking home loss to the Falcons the week before.
Carolina has lost two in a row, a competitive game that came down to the wire at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, and a Blowout home loss to the Falcons last week.
-- The Saints got off to a hot start with two first quarter touchdowns in less than 10 minutes, as Latavius Murray and Tre’Quan Smith scored to give the home team a 14-0 lead. DJ Moore scored on a long 51 yard pass for carolina, but Joey Slye missed the PAT and the score was 14-6, New Orleans. The two teams traded field goals to bring is to 17-9, and the Panthers scored on the last play of the first half as Christian McCaffrey caught a 1 yard touchdown pass. They went for two to try to tie the game but couldn’t get it, and trailed 15-17 at halftime.
New Orleans’ defense forced a three and out to begin the second half, as Carolina couldn’t take advantage of the two for one opportunity after scoring to close out the first half. Aided by an unnecessary roughness penalty, the Saints got down the field fast and Jared Cook caught a 20 yard touchdown pass to give the Saints a 24-15 lead. Carolina responded with a field goal to cut it to a one possession game at 18-24. Both teams traded touchdowns, then traded punts, bringing the game to 31-24 with the Saints in front.
Up by 7 but at their own 29 yard line with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, a wealth of time, facing third and long Drew Brees went deep but was intercepted at midfield by Safety Tre Boston. The Panthers with a short field took advantage, but it wasn’t easy. After a big penalty placed the ball first and goal at the one yard line the following sequence consisted of an incomplete pass, a fullback run for no gain and a McCaffrey run for a one yard loss. Fourth and goal at the 2 yard line, trailing by 7 with 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Dj Moore came up with an incredible touchdown pass, Slye made the PAT, and the game was tied at 31.
The Saints were near midfield, at their own 45 and went for it on 4th and 1, but Kamara was stuffed by Eric Reid and the panthers had a short field with just under seven minutes left and a chance to take the lead. Carolina had the ball with first and goal at the 3 yard line, but couldn’t cash it in. Joey Slye came on for a 28 yard attempt with two minutes left exactly, but booted it wide right and the Saints took over, drove to the Carolina 15 and Will Lutz hit the game winner from 33 yards out at the horn for a 34-31 New Orleans Victory.
A Major storyline in the game was Carolina kicker Joey Slye, who not only missed the Go-Ahead field goal with two minutes left, but also missed two extra points in the game, which was crucial in a game as close as this.
New Orleans is now 5-1 at the Superdome and 9-2 on the season, staying just one game behind San Francisco for the #1 Seed in the NFC, with the Niners coming to town next week.
Carolina falls to 5-6 in a loss that might wipe away their playoff hopes, as they are now three games behind the 8-3 Minnesota Vikings for the second NFC Wild Card spot. They are home against Washington next week.