Some things are beyond comprehension. The awful NFC South this season is one of them, as the Carolina Panthers suddenly come to life and destroy the New Orleans Saints 41-10 to find themselves back in the hunt for a playoff spot as Cam Netwon with the help of Jonathan Stewart actually outplayed Drew Brees.
What was so weird? The Panthers lost six straight going into their final chance of catching up with the Falcons and the Saints, not to mention seven games without a win, and winning just once in their last 10. A team buried by everyone, including themselves. And then they come out in a stadium that used to be a place that’s worth at least 14 points for the Saints as a head start, and wow everyone by forcing the Saints into submission.
Maybe you can’t fool everyone all the time. The offensive line for the Saints is bad and Rob Ryan is simply a bad, one-trick pony of a defensive coordinator. They’ve given up 27 points or more in five consecutive games, and suddenly, the toughest road game in the league along with Foxborough and Seattle has become the easiest of all: New Orleans have lost four home games this season (out of seven), all those losses coming in the last 30 days in what should have been their safe stretch.
So can the Panthers actually make the playoffs? Yes they can. At 4-8-1 they’re only half a game behind the Saints, and need the Falcons to lose on Monday Night Football. The Panthers have two home games against the Bucs (awful) and the Browns (free fall) before playing in Atlanta to close the season. A team that was dead and buried has a reason to play again.
Newton, who looked like a quarterback that has lost the zest of live and to play came alive with a physical, bruising performance in New Orleans, as if the Panthers of last season came back to life. He threw three touchdown passes and ran for another one while Jonathan Stewart added 155 yards and a score himself. Drew Brees threw one touchdown pass but also one interception while pummeled by the Panthers pass rush, in a season that both he and his teammates would love to forget.