With the Carolina offense sputtering, the Panthers needed a huge performance from its aging defense on Monday Night football against the New Orleans Saints.
And the Panthers’ defense came up with one of its best efforts of the season, but Carolina’s D appeared to tire late from being on the field so long. Sure enough, New Orleans mounted a punishing drive late in the fourth quarter, converting a fourth and 1 at the Panthers’ 13 just before the two minute warning. That was enough.
Carolina lost its sixth straight game, 12-9, and a season that began with a 6-2 start and legitimate Super Bowl hopes, well, it’s now turned into a 6-8 record and an extension of one of the worst Panthers’ streaks of all-time:
Carolina has never had back-to-back winning seasons.
But the 2018 flame-out didn’t happen without one last tease.
After the aforementioned fourth down conversion, New Orleans had a chance to end the game near the Panthers’ goal line. But the Saints fumbled the ball into the end zone. That gave Carolina the ball at its 20 with 1:44 to play.
With the crowd coming to life, season on the line, the Panthers drove -- less than 20 yards before turning the ball over on downs.
“This team does not deserve to go the playoffs after the performance tonight,” ESPN analyst Jason Witten told the national audience after the Panthers failed to get into position to tie, polishing off an absolutely listless offensive performance.
Worse, for Carolina fans, the Panthers have games ahead against Atlanta at home then at New Orleans in the Superdome and -- forget about the playoffs -- a 6-10 finish and an eight-game losing streak is suddenly becoming a real possibility.
The reaction came fast and furious.
ESPN’s Booger McFarland said Cam Newton’s “not right” (sore shoulder) and he doesn’t have a No. 1 receiver.
Carolina’s receivers struggled to create separation from Saints defenders, which would’ve given Newton cleaner windows into which to throw the ball. McFarland also said the defense kept the game close, but the Panthers offense -- which had a Newton interception in the end zone and a D.J. Moore fumble after a big run deep in Saints territory -- couldn’t close the deal.
And he was right.