The Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints have played 40 times – twice a year for the past 20 seasons – so there are all sorts of possibilities for flashback stories.
For Panthers fans, though, I don’t think there has ever been a better, wetter game than the one on Dec. 22, 2013. That one had just about everything. Luke Kuechly tied an NFL record with 24 tackles (although the Panthers’ coaches would later count 26).
There were six sacks of Drew Brees. There was also a 97-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown drive led by Brees, giving New Orleans a late 13-10 lead.
There was a virtual monsoon in the third quarter, which led to some waterfalls coming down from the upper bowl of the stadium, making many fans scramble for cover. And at the end, there was quite possibly the most dramatic drive Cam Newton has ever led.
Were you there? If so, you didn’t mind the rain then, and you won’t mind a review of the Panthers’ last possession.
Carolina started its final drive with 55 seconds left and no timeouts on its 35, trailing 13-10.
Newton had hurt his ankle and could barely run. Steve Smith was in the locker room with a knee injury.
“(Newton) just said, ‘Let’s get it done,’” Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross said at the time. “He went into his focus mode. He wasn’t the jovial self that he can sometimes be.”
Carolina had been mostly terrible on offense until then. The Panthers were 0-for-9 on third-down conversions. They had eight punts. Newton had thrown for 116 yards and had a red-zone interception.
On first down, though, Newton threw a strike over the middle to a cutting Ted Ginn Jr., who snatched the ball and sprinted out of bounds – a 37-yard gain that put Carolina in good shape at the New Orleans 28.
“A missile,” tight end Greg Olsen called Newton’s throw later, and Olsen would get the next pass that Newton completed. Against tight coverage by future Panthers safety Roman Harper, Olsen caught a 14-yard pass to the Saints 14.
The fans were standing and screaming at this point. On the left side of the formation, where Smith usually lined up, the Panthers instead had Domenik Hixon. The team’s No. 4 receiver, Hixon had barely been used all year. He ran what most NFL teams call a “7” route, so named because the receiver draws an imaginary “7” with his pattern, starting at the bottom of the number.
Hixon broke left to the corner of the end zone. Newton threw a low dart. Hixon dove and caught it. Or so he thought.
“I was about 99 percent sure – but you’d like to get confirmation,” said Hixon, who never scored for Carolina except for on that one play.
The play was reviewed. The call stood. The fans yelled. And Carolina won 17-13.
It very possibly will be at least half that wet this time around. We can only hope it will be half that dramatic.