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12.12.2019 02:54
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CHARLOTTE Brian Burns Jersey , N.C. (AP) — Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints still have one of the league’s top-scoring offenses, but lately it’s the defense that’s been carrying the NFL’s most complete team.On a night when Brees and the offense couldn’t get much going and made some uncharacteristic mistakes, New Orleans put the clamps on Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in a 12-9 victory on Monday night, moving the Saints into position to lock up home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.“I believe in us, game in and game out, first quarter to fourth quarter,” defensive end Cam Jordan said. “If it comes down to a crucial play, I believe in us.”Article continues below ...The Saints (12-2) held an opponent to 17 points or fewer for a sixth straight game. They limited Newton to 131 yards passing, sacked him four times and forced two turnovers. Carolina (6-8), which lost its sixth straight, had just 247 yards and 13 first downs. The Panthers’ only scores came on a trick play on fourth down and an interception return on a 2-point conversion attempt.“So proud of the defense,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I thought they were outstanding. It’s tough to win a division game on the road and we were able to do that.”Alvin Kamara had 103 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown C.J. Anderson Jersey , and Brees had 203 yards passing for the Saints, who took a one-game lead in the NFC over the Rams. The Saints close the season at home against Pittsburgh and Carolina; the Rams visit Arizona and host San Francisco.Newton struggled throwing the ball more than 10 yards downfield because of a lingering sore right shoulder. He said after the game he’s unsure what the injury is, but he mentioned his labrum and rotator cuff as possible issues. He has been limited in practice for weeks and doesn’t have the zip on the ball he normally has.So much for his boast that the Panthers were bringing a cup to steal the “juice” from the Saints.“(Newton) said something along the lines of they brought their own cup, a juice box or something, I don’t know what it was,” Jordan said. “But I do know that he’s got to go back to the refrigerator and pull out a bigger cup.”The Saints swept three games from the Panthers last season and knocked them out of the playoffs, prompting Jordan to send Newton a bottle of red wine in the offseason, while some other teammates gave him a broom. This loss likely ended Carolina’s playoff hopes again.Newton said his shoulder simply isn’t getting better — or worse — and he refused to blame the injury, saying, “I have to be better.”“Our defense played a hell of a game and we have to reward them,” Newton said. “We had two turnovers in the red zone and that comes down to execution.”TRICK PLAYSThe Panthers struck first after offensive coordinator Norv Turner dug into his bag of tricks.On a fourth-and-2 from midfield, Christian McCaffrey got a handoff Luke Kuechly Color Rush Jersey , took a step toward the line, then stepped back and lofted a perfect pass over the middle to tight end Chris Manhertz, who was 15 yards behind the defense. Manhertz trotted into the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. It was McCaffrey’s first career pass attempt, although he threw two TD passes while at Stanford. He became the first non-QB to throw a TD pass in Panthers history.APPLE’S PICKEli Apple intercepted Newton in the end zone with 10 seconds left in the first half.“I knew they were going to take a shot,” Apple said. “They ran a fade route. I just tried to get my head around and make a play on the ball.”COSTLY TURNOVERSThe Panthers held the Saints in check for most of the third quarter, but the game changed when Panthers receiver D.J. Moore fumbled on an inside handoff. The Saints pounced, capping an 84-yard drive with a 16-yard TD run by Kamara to make it 12-7 early in the fourth quarter. The Saints went for 2, but Brees’ toss was intercepted by Donte Jackson, who took it back nearly 100 yards.That wasn’t the only time the Saints cost themselves a scoring opportunity. New Orleans was on the verge of taking the lead late in the second quarter, but James Bradberry intercepted Brees’ tipped pass and returned it to Saints territory.And New Orleans whiffed on a potential game-sealing touchdown when Tommylee Lewis fumbled near the goal line, leading to a touchback that gave Carolina one last chance to tie the game with 1:44 remaining. But the Panthers couldn’t move the ball and turned it over on downs.McCAFFREY SETS MARKMcCaffrey broke DeAngelo Williams’ single-season franchise record of 1,636 yards from scrimmage with a rush in the first quarter. He finished with 110 yards rushing and receiving.DUBIOUS STREAKThe loss extended the Panthers’ streak of never having posted back-to-back winning seasons since joining the NFL in 1995.OLSEN UPDATEPanthers tight end Greg Olsen had surgery on his right foot Monday Ryan Kalil Color Rush Jersey , his second procedure on the foot in the last 16 months. “Surgery went well and I am on my way towards a full recovery,” Olsen wrote on Instagram.INJURIESSaints center Max Unger left the game in the first half after being evaluated for a concussion and did not return. He was replaced by Cameron Tom.UP NEXTSaints: Host the Steelers on Sunday.Panthers: Host the Falcons on Sunday. I’ve been writing for weeks about the bright, young talent that will make the Panthers future. Never has that subject been more relevant than on the last day of a sad season that featured the final performance of all-time standouts Julius Peppers and Ryan Kalil and may have seen the final games from similar franchise legend Thomas Davis. We will talk a lot more about them in the coming weeks. They deserve more than passing mention in the weekly column that is supposed to be about the good news yet to break. We’ll also spend more time than just this column breaking down what the hell happened to this season. Today, let’s focus on what happened yesterday. Let’s talk about just the one football game while we still can.The Panthers played a game that was fun to watch for the first time in almost two months. They did it while still being plagued by the issues that lead to their seven game losing streak in the first place. A distinctly unimpressive offensive line performance led to the Panthers playing their fourth quarterback due to injury this season. A litany of second and third string players on the Saints’ offensive line held their own against the best the Panthers defensive linemen could throw at them. The Panthers still won. That might be because the rest of the Saints players, save Michael Thomas and Eli Apple, were off partying on the sidelines instead of competing in the game, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Panthers played entertaining football while showing flashes of a promising future. Cam Newton’s deterioration following the Pittsburgh game shouldn’t mask the fact that he didn’t really have a deep ball during the first half of the season, either. Yesterday showed us what Norv Turner’s offense can look like with downfield threats in the mix. That's a pretty good result from what was essentially a preseason game for both teams.You are welcome to feel any which way you want over the now confirmed returns of Marty Hurney, Ron Rivera, and the rest of the Panthers management and coaching staff. I have made myself clear on their performances on a number of occasions. You’d have to be crazy, however, to not want to see what Turner and his scheme could do with a healthy Newton and this young group of play makers.Curtis Samuel’s one great deep touchdown Graham Gano Jersey , D.J. Moore’s phenomenal run after the catch on an intermediate target, and the pass interference call in the first quarter on a hilariously under-thrown ball to Samuel were all examples of this offense being able to pull big plays out of nowhere. Kyle Allen, regardless of his future in the NFL and with his injury from yesterday, deserves credit for showing us what the Panthers could be next year.His performance as a first time starter was far better than expected. Like Chris Clark before him, he was a street signing that played beyond expectations. Also like Clark, we shouldn’t expect him to bring the Panthers glory if Newton has to sit out any length of time to rehab his shoulder. Goodness does not guarantee greatness. Allen was good in his limited time yesterday. The Panthers should absolutely consider him when constructing their quarterback room next year. But they won’t be so naive as to pin their hopes, however short term, to his young and brief success.The Panthers’ future rests on the shoulder of a man with a poorly defined injury. Newton is the only franchise quarterback that they will have the opportunity or the capital to employ for the foreseeable future. Identifying a path for his return and protection has to be their highest priority. Newton at the helm of the offense we saw yesterday is more exciting than any play for which Steve Smith or Ted Ginn, Jr were responsible.Opportunities for greatness are not common in the NFL. The league is designed to favor parity over dominance. The Panthers are not far from such an opportunity, despite their disappointing 7-9 finish. Any fan of the Carolina Panthers should be optimistic about that.

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