wnol.info July 22 2018

Panthers fall short in final drive, eliminated by Saints

July 22 2018, 11:57 | Van Peters

Drew Brees

Drew Brees

The Carolina Panthers are facing scrutiny from the NFL after quickly clearing quarterback Cam Newton to play Sunday, less than two weeks after a league mandate requiring more extensive concussion testing for players demonstrating obvious symptoms. The win was the Saints first playoff victory at home in six years.

"That was huge", Brees said. "There's no better feeling".

Following the heartbreaking loss to the Saints, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera revealed that Cam went down on goal so he could give backup QB Derek Anderson time to get warmed up. "We knew coming in this would be completely different".

New Orleans was the better and more complete team all year.

The Panthers were investigated once before in the 2016 season opener at Denver when Newton took a blow to the head but remained in the game.

Cam Newton: Newton completed 24 of 40 passes for 349 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

"Then let's go for it", Brees said. He was cleared to play. He threw for 376 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Panthers, pushing the Saints' playoff record in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to a pristine 5-0 in the era of Brees and Coach Sean Payton.

"We had to fight to play next week", Saints defensive end Cam Jordan, who had a sack and tackle for loss, told Fox Sports. After missing the rest of that series, Newton came back to lead another scoring drive, this time connecting with Christian McCaffery on a 56-yard touchdown. Says it's not the way they wanted it to end.

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Derrick Henry might have been Tennessee's most important player, rushing 23 times for 156 yards and a score. So did Kansas City's Alex Smith , though Smith didn't hurt them with his legs.

Even though Payton's gamble failed - Drew Brees threw an interception at the Carolina 31 - a tired Saints defense had just enough closing stamina to keep the Panthers out of the end zone and preserve a wild, 31-26 wild-card playoff victory over the Panthers. They totaled 69 Sunday.

Carolina (11-6) almost prevented New Orleans from staying alive in the postseason, turning a late interception of quarterback Drew Brees into a last-ditch effort to steal a victory on the road after twice losing to the Saints in the regular season. "We had an opportunity. But I think we have a veteran team that can handle that". "I'm not going to take the cowardly way and point somebody else out". "That's a tough one to handle". "It just killed everything for us", said one Panther's fan. "We held them in the red zone and we won the game". Should the Saints and Falcons win next weekend, the NFC Championship Game would be right back here.

After a 27-yard filed goal by Graham Gano made it 7-3, Brees capped a 75-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Josh Hill.

Brees' 151.4 passer rating is the highest by any player in the first half of a playoff game (minimum 10 attempts) since Kurt Warner in the 2008 NFC Championship (156.0 passer rating against Eagles).

All turnovers are reviewed under two minutes, and the play was clearly close enough to warrant a second look but it never happened. "We didn't come here just to get a shot". Two plays later, Brees hit ex-Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who got behind Panthers cornerback James Bradberry for an 80-yard touchdown.

But Gano's long field goal on the last play of the first half got the Panthers within 21-9 at the break. They're headed to Minneapolis, where they are 3-13 all time and lost a Monday night season opener, 29-19.

In the end, the Panthers can take some solace from the crushing loss, knowing their defense slowed down the Saints' talented running back tandem of Boom & Zoom: Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.

Newton was spectacular. The coaches and management, allowing him to go into this game with these receivers, were the ones who failed. "Week 1, we were a relatively young team as far as experience goes and as far as time together".

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