A game that went from runaway to down-to-the-wire shed light onto another bright spot on this New Orleans Saints team.
Air came rushing back into Saints’ fans lungs when Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was taken down by safety Vonn Bell. More than enough air to turn those held breaths into screams and cheers of celebration.
Players started jumping into the crowd with their open arms, as the sack sealed the team’s third victory over Carolina this season. The demoralizing sweep was very close to actually being one of the most disappointing endings to a Saints season ever.
During Week 3, the Saints beat the Panthers 31-13. The win sparked an 8-game winning streak for New Orleans. Their Week 12 loss in Los Angeles that snapped the streak was followed by a home matchup against Carolina. The Saints, of course, won that game as well, by a score of 31-21.
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Somehow, the Saints weren’t able to fend off Carolina for the NFC South title until the final week. Both teams lost, and the Saints had the tie breaker due to better divisional record and head-to-head sweep. But New Orleans played so well against the Panthers, you would have thought their respective seasons had been nearly opposite.
Showing championship character
That led us to Sunday’s game. Both teams entered the game at 11-5 on the regular season. The Panthers and Saints each had a number of advantages in major statistical categories. It ended up being New Orleans’ biggest test of the year.
Carolina clawed their way back into the game during the fourth quarter after trailing by as many as 15 points. It was the most nerve-racking final seven minutes of football for the Saints in years. It’s a playoff game against a divisional rival. Your team is nearly blowing a huge lead at home after a fantastic regular season.
And then, New Orleans was able to put it into the gear. The championship gear. Alvin Kamara’s two-yard touchdown run with five minutes left seemed to seal the game for the Saints. However, Christian McCaffery’s 56-yard touchdown catch occurred less than a minute later. Add in a sloppy Saints possession on offense, and Newton and the Panthers had the ball back looking to take the lead and pull off the upset with over two and a half minutes remaining.
Sealing the deal
That’s when New Orleans locked down. Coverage became a little bit tighter, penalties (luckily) were absent from negatively affecting the Saints and they contained the Panthers. It was something not yet seen from this team in 2017.
During close games, the Saints were unable to overcome the Rams late. Same with the Falcons during the first meeting. They weren’t even able to come back and beat Tampa Bay during the last game of the season after blowing a lead.
When it mattered, though, New Orleans wasn’t afraid to step up in the final minutes. They showed championship caliber play. Every team in any sport, especially football, who has won it all or gotten close, is able to close out high-intensity games.
There’s more confidence and swagger among the team, it seems, after the win. Same can be said for the franchise. If the celebration videos and live streams in the locker room wasn’t enough, wait until the build up for this week. This team and their fans know they have the talent, and, now, the poise to win it all.