Panther Tracks

Panthers let playoff chance slip away in New Orleans. Social media reacts

Well, this season the New Orleans Saints have been running the ball much more than ever, terrorizing the league with the NFL’s top running back tandem: Alvin Kamara and former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.

The duo rushed for nearly 2,000 yards combined in the regular-season.

Sunday, in the NFL playoffs against the Carolina Panthers, the Saints’ run game was slowed down and New Orleans won 31-26 by reverting to what they’ve always been with Drew Brees as their quarterback: one of the most explosive offenses on the planet.

Brees simply riddled a Panthers defense that seemed prepped to stop the run with a litany of precision passes and, although he held the ball longer than he usually does, Carolina’s vaunted pass rush (mostly) couldn’t get home. That allowed one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history to simply tear apart what was one of the league’s best defenses this season.

Brees completed 23-of-32 passes for 376 yards and two touchdowns, and looked like a former All-Pro and former Super Bowl winning quarterback, coming through big in the big moment.

Carolina, meanwhile, moved the ball well, but an early touchdown drop and too many drives that led to field goals put the Panthers into a hole they couldn’t quite climb out of.

But the Panthers got the ball late with about 70 yards to score after New Orleans coach Sean Payton made a curious decision to go for it on fourth and 2 near midfield. Cam Newton, who was brilliant despite a depleted roster, drove the Panthers down the field but was sacked on fourth down before he could throw the ball in the end zone on his team’s final play.

This much was certain. This was the game of the weekend.

Newton finished the game 24-of-40 for 349 yards and two touchdowns and some fans probably wondered if he should’ve started the final drive near midfield since it appeared that Carolina’s fourth down interception was dropped. And later on the Panthers’ final drive, Carolina lost 10 seconds and a down when Newton was called for intentional grounding, when it appeared he was outside the pocket and made a legal throwaway.

Cam’s eye injury and Twitter reaction

In the fourth quarter, Newton took a wicked hit and appeared as though he might have a concussion. Some fans in New Orleans cheered the Panthers quarterback’s apparent injury. And plenty of folks on social media were (unfortunately) cheering, too.

Carolina’s Early Woes, and Ted Ginn’s big play

The Panthers put together a 15-play drive in the first quarter that took up more than seven minutes and including two dropped passes, one that would’ve been for a score and a 7-0 lead. Worse, Panthers kicker Graham Gano missed what would’ve been a field goal that was about extra point distance.

When New Orleans got the ball back, Drew Brees hit former Panther Ted Ginn with an 80-yard score. On replay, Fox analyst Joe Buck corrected noted that Ginn -- who didn’t want to leave Carolina -- gives the Saints “the speed the Panthers lack” as Ginn sprinted down the right side to the goal line.

So, to recap, in the space of four plays, the Panthers dropped a TD pass, missed a field goal and gave up a bomb. Instead of a lead and momentum, the Panthers were trailing. And they would never lead.

Skip Bayless Trolls Panthers

Fox Sports analyst Skip Bayless Paul Zimmerman Getty Images

Fox Sports talking head and noted Dallas Cowboy fan Skip Bayless was trolling the Panthers and their roster pretty hard during Sunday’s game, however correctly.

Pregame festivities

After a relatively boring AFC playoff between Buffalo and Jacksonville, ESPN’s Michael Wilbon told his five million Twitter followers he was hoping for more entertainment from Cam, the Panthers, Brees and the Saints.

And, in California, a potential future Panthers owner suited up in his jersey to watch the game: Stephen Curry, donning a Panthers jersey and hat, made sure fans knew who he was pulling for.