Grading the Carolina Panthers for Sunday’s game at New Orleans:
B+ Quarterback: Cam Newton did what he could to give the Panthers a chance, completing 24 of 40 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns and running for 37 yards. Newton left for one offensive play in the fourth quarter to be evaluated for a concussion, but was cleared.
B Running backs: Christian McCaffrey’s 56-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter was the rookie’s longest play this season. The Panthers stuck with their plan to establish the running game, the reason they had a nearly nine-minute edge in possession time in the first half.
B- Receivers: Newton and tight end Greg Olsen got back on track. Olsen caught seven passes for 104 yards and a TD. Kaelin Clay dropped a perfectly thrown pass by Newton in the end zone, forcing the Panthers to settle for a field-goal try (unsuccessful).
C Offensive line: Newton had a clean pocket in the first half, when he wasn’t sacked and was only pressured once. But with the Panthers forced to pass more in the second half, the Saints had three sacks on Newton, including the one that sent him to the sideline to be checked for a concussion.
C Defensive line: The Panthers’ front four failed to get sustained pressure on Drew Brees, sacking him only once (by Kawann Short) and getting only three other hits on him (one was by linebacker Luke Kuechly).
B- Linebackers: This group did a better job of tackling on running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram than in the Week 13 loss at New Orleans. Shaq Thompson had eight tackles, while Kuechly and Thomas Davis had four apiece.
D Secondary: There looked to be a coverage bust by Kurt Coleman (and maybe James Bradberry, too) on Ted Ginn’s 80-yard TD catch. Safety Mike Adams didn’t get to Brees on blitzes on two TD throws. Brees threw for 376 yards and two touchdowns.
C Special teams: Graham Gano, the NFL’s most accurate FG kicker in the regular season, missed a 25-yarder in the first quarter. He promptly made his next four, including a 58-yarder that was a Panthers’ postseason record.
D Coaching: Steve Wilks got caught in a couple of blitzes on Brees’ first two TD passes. Mike Shula tried to establish the running game in the first half. But ultimately the Panthers lost three times this season to their division rivals. Not good.