This time a big Carolina Panthers lead was safe.
It was just never particularly comfortable.
After the Carolina Panthers stretched their lead to 20 in the third quarter, they held on for a 23-20 victory at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday night.
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The victory wasn’t without cost. Center Ryan Kalil reinjured his right shoulder early in the second half and defensive end Mario Addison, who had two sacks, left with an injured right foot.
Then, linebacker Luke Kuechly left the game on a cart with 4:41 to play after taking a helmet to the facemask and then the chest from running back Tim Hightower.
Cam Newton’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. in the final minute of the second quarter gave the Panthers that 17-point advantage.
For some, that was still a nervous number.
The previous weekend, the Panthers led Kansas City 17-0 before giving up two fourth-quarter touchdowns and a last-minute field goal, losing 20-17.
Thursday, after Graham Gano’s third field goal of the game stretched the margin to 20 on the first drive of the third quarter, the Saints made Panthers fans nervous again.
A Wil Lutz field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter and a 9-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Brandon Coleman made it 23-13 with 11:22 to play.
Then, with 2:52 to play, the Saints completed a 13-play, 76-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Coby Fleener that cut Carolina’s lead to 23-20.
The Saints got back into the game largely because of three consecutive three-and-out series by the Carolina offense in the fourth quarter.
But staring at a fourth consecutive three-and-out, Newton found wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for an 18-yard completion that gave the Panthers a first down on third-and-10.
With the Saints out of timeouts, three running plays ran the clock down to 28 seconds before the Panthers were forced to punt.
Michael Palardy, who didn’t have a regular-season punt in the NFL before Thursday, hit a 52-yarder, and a holding penalty on the Saints put the ball at the New Orleans 14 with 14 seconds to play.
Three Brees completions later, the clock had run out and Carolina had survived.
The Panthers improved to 4-6, two games behind NFC South-leading Atlanta, which has a bye this weekend. New Orleans is also 4-6.
Three who mattered
Ted Ginn Jr.: After not scoring a touchdown all season coming in, he nearly had one on a reverse on Carolina’s first drive, then got one on the 40-yard pass from Newton with 17 seconds to play in the first half that gave Carolina a 20-3 lead. We won’t talk about the punt he muffed, then recovered, in the fourth quarter.
Mario Addison: He got a strip and fumble recovery on the Saints’ third pass attempt, and later added a second sack. Addison has 6.5 sacks on the season, tying his career high from 2014. But in the fourth quarter, he limped off with a right foot injury.
Luke Kuechly: Before leaving with a possible concussion, Kuechly was everywhere. He had 14 tackles, a pass defensed and nearly returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown.
▪ The color rush uniforms the teams wore were sharp – all blue for the Panthers, a Georgia Tech-like all white with gold trim for the Saints. Some of these color rush schemes have been awful (Ketchup vs. Mustard comes to mind), but not these two.
▪ Benjamin’s only catch of the game was followed by an examination of his left shoulder, some kind of ointment being rubbed on the injury and a trip to the locker room. He returned before halftime.
▪ Kalil reinjured his right shoulder on the first drive of the second half, and did not return.
▪ James Bradberry had a meaningless block in the back, trailing the ball, against the kicker, on what would have been a touchdown by Kuechly on a blocked field goal. Kuechly was not happy with Bradberry. At all.
▪ Ginn’s touchdown catch bailed out Bradberry. The Saints tried to cover Ginn with linebacker Craig Robertson, and that was a bad plan.
▪ The speed with which trainers reached New Orleans running back Mark Ingram after he took a knee to the helmet in the third quarter was impressive, and telling. Ingram was taken to the locker room and evaluated in the concussion protocol.
▪ No one noticed Panthers punter Palardy when he held for Graham Gano on three field goals and two extra points. Since he has been in Charlotte for less than a week, that’s impressive.
▪ The Panthers reached the 1 on a Ginn reverse. Then they went no gain, loss of 11, tipped pass that was almost intercepted, roughing the kicker for a Carolina first down, Newton loss of 8, tipped pass, overthrown in the end zone, field goal. That’s 11 plays, 18 yards on the drive. So, yeah.
▪ Newton finished 14 of 33 for 192 yards and a touchdown.
▪ The Saints drove 71 yards in 14 plays for a tying field goal, 27 yards by Lutz with 36 seconds to play in the first quarter. Lutz added a 30-yarder on the first play of the fourth quarter.
▪ Kurt Coleman’s second-quarter interception was his second of the season, tying Thomas Davis for the team lead. Coleman had seven a season ago.
▪ Saints linebacker Vonn Bell was flagged for a late hit out of bounds against Newton in the second quarter.
▪ Jonathan Stewart had five carries for zero or negative yards before his 1-yard touchdown dive gave Carolina a 10-3 lead with 5:40 to play in the second quarter.
▪ Marcus Murphy fumbled a kickoff out of bounds inside the 1 after Stewart’s touchdown dive. That one will hurt in the film room.
▪ The Panthers get a sort of mini-bye this weekend, and next play on Nov. 27 at Oakland against the Raiders. That starts a two-week span on the West Coast that concludes with a Sunday night game at Seattle on Dec. 4. The Panthers will not return to Charlotte between those games.
▪ Kony Ealy had a sack for the second consecutive week after being shut out in the Panthers’ first seven games.
They said it
“Luke is a special one and they know that.” – Rivera, on team’s feelings for Kuechly.
“We’ve got a good group of young men. We’ve just got to keep it rolling.” – Rivera.
“It sucked seeing one of my brothers go down. But it’s all right. I know he’s going to be all right. We have the next man ready.” – Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson, on Kuechly.