Carolina Panthers

Great escape: Panthers beat Saints 41-38, improve to NFL-best 12-0

Carolina Panthers receiver Jerricho Cotchery (82) hauls in the game-winning touchdown past New Orleans Saints' Chris Owens (30) late in Sunday’s game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome . The Panthers won 41-38, and improve to 12-0.
Carolina Panthers receiver Jerricho Cotchery (82) hauls in the game-winning touchdown past New Orleans Saints' Chris Owens (30) late in Sunday’s game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome . The Panthers won 41-38, and improve to 12-0. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

After three weeks of total domination, the Carolina Panthers were due for a game like this.

Sure, the Saints had a losing record but it’s a divisional rival at home with something to play for.

Carolina didn’t steamroll the Saints like it did Tennessee, Washington and Dallas, but the Panthers (12-0) remained undefeated with their 41-38 victory against the Saints.

“Things don’t usually happen at all, let alone to us ... it was that day,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “But when you can win on your bad days, that says a lot about your team.”

The Panthers had clinched the NFC South title before the opening kickoff by virtue of Tampa Bay’s victory against Atlanta. It’s the third consecutive division title and third consecutive playoff berth for Carolina, the first time in franchise history either of those things has happened.

In a game that featured five lead changes, the Panthers were down four points in the final minutes. They converted a crucial fourth down on a Cam Newton pass to Olsen to the New Orleans’ 30.

That eventually led to the game-winning, 15-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Jerricho Cotchery.

Newton passed for five touchdowns but also took several big hits, including one that sent him to the locker room to be checked by an independent neurosurgeon for a possible concussion.

The Panthers also had two coverage breakdowns that led to touchdowns for New Orleans (4-8).

Three who mattered

Ted Ginn Jr.: The veteran receiver had two touchdown catches but dropped two others passes that would have been.

Jonathan Stewart: No one took more hits on the field Sunday than Stewart, who carried 21 times for 82 yards.

Stephone Anthony: The rookie from Anson County and Clemson scored eight points for the Saints. He returned a Jonathan Stewart fumble and then returned a blocked extra-point attempt for a two-point conversion.

Observations

▪  It didn’t take long for Cortland Finnegan to get involved in the game. The 10-year veteran who was signed last week made a drive-stopping tackle on third down of the first series of the game, and even helped up tight end Benjamin Watson after the tackle.

▪  Fullback Mike Tolbert did the Carlton Dance popularized in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” after scoring his second-quarter receiving touchdown.

▪  The blocked extra-point attempt returned for a touchdown was the first in NFL history. Kevin Williams blocked it and Anthony returned it for the score, which is technically considered a two-point conversion.

▪  Rivera is 12-for-29 all-time on challenges after winning one on a Ted Ginn Jr. catch in the second quarter and one on an incomplete pass in the fourth quarter. He has won six of his 10 challenges this year.

▪  Ginn dropped a long pass from Newton that was perfectly placed late in the third quarter. On the next play, Devin Funchess dropped what could have been a first down. And then Newton overthrew a wide open Philly Brown when the Saints sent an all-out blitz. The last series of the third quarter wasn’t a good one for Carolina’s passing game.

Worth mentioning

▪  After Newton threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Ginn in the third quarter, the quarterback went to get the ball in the end zone and give it away to a fan. But field judge Doug Rosenbaum wouldn’t have it. He picked it up, refused to give it to Newton and then threw it to a ball boy. Newton retrieved it from the ball boy and gave it away.

▪  Saints cornerback Brandon Browner, who signed a $15 million contract in the offseason, was flagged for three penalties Sunday. He’s now been flagged 21 times this season, which is the most for any defensive back.

They said it

“It’s a physical sport. It’s not ballet. ... It’s a collision sport. I know that and I understand that. But I’m fine.” – Newton, on the big hits he took on Sunday.

“We missed some today. We threw a couple long, we threw a couple over the tops of heads and we did drop some. It’s going to happen. The thing you have to do is go in and make plays and that’s what happened.” – Rivera.

“And it happened twice, 12 (men) on the field, clearly, and they’re getting that right on Friday nights.” – Saints coach Sean Payton on what he felt should have been two penalties on Carolina for too many men on the field.

P@nthers

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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