Saints overcome stagnant offense as mistakes doom Panthers in crippling loss

For much of the night Monday, the Carolina Panthers were the better football team.

They managed to slow the potent New Orleans Saints attack, holding Drew Brees and Co. out of the end zone through three quarters. But critical mistakes throughout the game caught up with them at the end when the Saints offense woke up in the fourth quarter to secure a 12-9 win.

Panthers’ last gasp falls short

The Panthers found one last chance at life when Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis fumbled the ball through the end zone as the Saints looked to put the game away in the final two minutes. Lewis appeared to have first-down yardage inside the 2-yard line but lost control of the ball through the end zone and out of bounds for a touchback.

But Carolina couldn’t convert on the touchback, eventually turning the ball over on downs on the ensuing possession. Newton has reportedly been hampered by a shoulder issue for much of the season, and it looked like it as he struggled to throw the ball downfield on Carolina’s final drive.

With the win, the Saints improved to 12-2, taking firm control of the top seed over the 11-3 Los Angeles Rams in the NFC while delivering a crippling blow to the now 6-8 Panthers’ playoff hopes.

Blown opportunities for Panthers

The Panthers saw multiple opportunities to capitalize on their strong defensive effort thwarted by turnovers. A James Bradberry interception of Drew Brees late in the second quarter set the Panthers up in the red zone with time winding down. 

But a Cam Newton pass to Devin Funchess in the end zone ended up in the hands of Saints cornerback Eli Apple, whose interception kept Carolina’s first-half edge at 7-6.

The Panthers had another chance to extend their lead late in the third quarter when Newton handed off to rookie receiver D.J. Moore from the 50-yard-line. Moore raced deep into Saints territory before fumbling the ball for another turnover.

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New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson
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New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 22: New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson stands on the field during a game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 22, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 18: Owner Gayle Benson of the New Orleans Saints waves to the crowd before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 18, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Eagles 48-7. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 18: Gayle Benson owner of the New Orleans Saints reacts before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 18, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 09: New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson, general manager Mickey Loomis and president Dennis Lauscha react as former owner Tom Benson is inducted into the Ring of Honor during a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 9, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
New Orleans Pelicans principal owner Gayle Benson, left, looks on as Rocky the mountain lion, the Denver Nuggets mascot, performs for fans during a time out in the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in Denver. The Nuggets won 116-111. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Gayle Benson, center, principal owner of the New Orleans Pelicans, looks on as her team warms up before facing the Denver Nuggets in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
New Orleans Pelicans principal owner Gayle Benson in the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in Denver. The Nuggets won 116-111. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
In this Sept. 16, 2018, photo, New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson waves before an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns in New Orleans. New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Benson has paid off nearly $100,000 worth of layaway orders at a New Orleans Walmart. News outlets reported Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, that Benson has paid off more than 400 orders at the Tchoupitoulas Street store. NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reports a Saints spokesman says Benson made the gift on her own.(AP Photo/Bill Feig)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) embraces team owner Gayle Benson after breaking the NFL all-time passing yards record in the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in New Orleans, Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson waves during training camp in the rain at their NFL football training facility in Metairie, La., Monday, July 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson talks to head coach Sean Payton during NFL football practice in Metairie, La., Thursday, July 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson congratulates former Saints wide receiver Lance Moore, a member of their 2010 Super Bowl championship team, for inclusion into the Saints Hall of Fame, at their headquarters in Metairie, La., Thursday, June 14, 2018. Left is team photographer Michael Hebert, who received the Joe Gemelli "Fleur de Lis" award, their Hall of Fame's highest non-player award. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson uses a speaker phone to inform Governor of Louisiana John Bel Edwards other elected officials that New Orleans has been awarded the 2024 Super Bowl during the NFL owner's spring meeting Wednesday, May 23, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson leaves a conference room during the NFL owners meetings, Wednesday, March 28, 2018 in Orlando, Fla. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Images for NFL)
Gayle Benson is escorted during a second line following the funeral service for NFL New Orleans Saints owner and NBA New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson, Friday, March 23, 2018, in New Orleans. Benson died last Thursday at the age of 90. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)
New Orleans Pelicans and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson talks with his wife Gayle Benson before an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in New Orleans, Sunday, March 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Bensons and his wife Gayle Benson greet forward Anthony Davis during NBA basketball media day in New Orleans, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2014, file photo, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle Benson pose for a photo with his granddaughter, and Pelicans co-owner Rita Benson LeBlanc, left, at the Pelicans NBA basketball media day in Metairie, La. Tom Benson, who owns the NFL's Saints and NBA's Pelicans, asserted in a statement released Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, that removing his daughter and grandchildren from the operation of his sports franchises _ and inserting his wife of 10 years in their place _ will ensure the clubs’ long-term stability and future in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle Benson pose for a photo with his granddaughter, and Pelicans co-owner Rita Benson LeBlanc, standing front row, and several players at the Pelicans NBA basketball media day in Metairie, La., Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. Back row, left to right, are Jrue Holiday (11), Omer Aski, Anthony Davis (23), Eric Gordon (10), Ryan Anderson (33) and Tyreke Evans (1). (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson, right, and his wife Gayle Benson, second right, sit with New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and his girlfriend Skylene Montgomery in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in New Orleans, Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. The Pelicans won 110-108. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2013, file photo, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, right, waves with his wife Gayle Benson before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in New Orleans. Benson and trustees for his estranged heirs have ironed out legal and structural sticking points of a settlement that has been in the works since last June, avoiding a federal trial that was scheduled to begin on Monday, Feb. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Bill Haber, File)
Tom Benson, center, owner of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Hornets, poses for a photo with co-owner and granddaughter Rita Benson LeBlanc, right, and his wife Gayle Benson, left, along with Hornets players during their NBA basketball media day at their practice facility in Westwego, La., Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. Players from rear left are guard Austin Rivers (25), forward Anthony Davis, guard Eric Gordon, center Robin Lopez, forward Ryan Anderson and guard Greivis Vasquez. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle, walk across the practice field during NFL football training camp in Metairie, La., Friday, July 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, right, talks with owner Tom Benson, center, his wife Gayle Benson, and team president Dennis Lauscha during the first practice of NFL football training camp at their indoor training facility in Metairie, La., Thursday, July 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
NBA Commissioner David Stern, center, and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, second left, pose for a photo at a news conference conference announcing Benson's agreement to purchase the NBA basketball New Orleans Hornets, in New Orleans, Monday, April 16, 2012. Left to right are New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Benson, Stern, Gayle Benson, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Tom Benson, New Orleans Saints owner, waves to the crowd with his wife, Gayle Benson, as he arrives for an NBA basketball game between the New Orleans Hornets and the Memphis Grizzlies in New Orleans, Sunday, April 15, 2012. Benson agreed Friday to purchase the Hornets from the NBA. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson waves along with his wife Gayle as they drive a golf cart around the field during practice at NFL football training camp, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011, in Oxnard, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, center, greets Saints owner Tom Benson, right, and Benson's wife Gayle before the first half of the NFL Super Bowl XLIV football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Miami, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle, wave into the stands before the NFL Super Bowl XLIV football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Miami, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle chat with Drew Brees after an NFL football divisional playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals in New Orleans, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010. The Saints defeated the Cardinals 45-14 to advance to the NFC conference championship. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson right, and his wife, Gayle Benson, wave to fans during the NFL football team's minicamp practice in Metairie, La., Friday, June 1, 2007. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, center, and his wife Gayle, left, talks with Saints coach Sean Payton after the Washington Redskins game in New Orleans Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006. The Saints lost to the Redskins, 16-10. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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Saints finally find end zone in fourth quarter

The Saints took over and used the ensuing possession to take their first lead of the game when Alvin Kamara eventually scampered for a 16-yard touchdown.

Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson intercepted Brees’ two-point conversion attempt and returned it for a Carolina score, but the 12-9 score would prove to be final.

Worries about Saints offense?

The Saints will face questions about an offense held to 12 points or fewer in two out of the last three games, with the other instance a stunning 13-10 loss to the Cowboys in Week 13.

Brees struggled on Monday, completing 23-of-35 attempts for 203 yards with an interception, a pair of sacks and zero touchdowns, looking little like the director of the juggernaut offense that has defined New Orleans this season.

But the Saints finish the season with a pair of games at home. If they hold serve in the Superdome, they won’t play another road game this season, which will give them ample opportunity to find their rhythm again.

For the Panthers, it’s the sixth straight loss after a promising 6-2 start that has collapsed in disappointment. There will be plenty of questions for head coach Ron Rivera and how to address the team’s future in the offseason.

 

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