1. Newton’s scramble
The score: Scoreless.
The situation: Third and 6 at the Carolina 43, 12:29 to play in the first quarter.
The play: After finding no one open, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton eludes the New Orleans rush and scrambles down the right side for 19 yards and a first down.
Why it mattered: On the game’s first drive, when a punt would have whipped the Saints crowd into even further frenzy, Newton kept the Panthers moving. Aided by that run and yet another flag thrown against the Panthers and then picked up, Carolina took the opening kickoff and drove into field goal range. Graham Gano was good from 45 yards for a 3-0 Panthers lead.
2. Brees to Colston
The score: Panthers 6, Saints 0, 1:09 to play in the first quarter.
The situation: The Saints faced third and 9 at their own 21, and potentially their second straight three-and-out.
The play: With Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis blitzing and not getting to Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Brees lofts a pass to wide receiver Marques Colston for a 21-yard gain and a first down.
Why it mattered: That play was followed by a 38-yard run by Darren Sproles that put New Orleans in scoring position, and a 6-yard touchdown pass to Colston gave the Saints a 7-6 lead over a Carolina team that had dominated time of possession but settled for field goals.
3. LaFell’s drop
The score: Saints 14, Panthers 6, 2:44 to play in the first half.
The situation: Panthers’ ball, second and 8 at the Carolina 22.
The play: Carolina had a second and 8 at the 22 when Brandon LaFell dropped what would have been a first-down pass from Newton. The Saints sacked Newton on the next play, and Carolina punted after running just 43 seconds off the clock.
Why it mattered: It took the Saints seven plays to go 76 yards and run the halftime lead to 21-6. The touchdown came on a 5-yard pass to Jimmy Graham, who was being covered by linebacker Luke Kuechly, with 18 seconds to play.
4. Brees’ conversion
The score: Saints 21, Panthers 6, 7:32 to play in the third quarter.
The situation: Saints’ ball, third and 5 at the Panthers’ 35.
The play: Brees, facing a rush that had a hard time getting to the quarterback all night, steps up in the pocket and finds Kenny Stills for 8 yards and a first down.
Why it mattered: Other than highlighting the Panthers’ ineffective pass rush against Brees, the play kept alive a 13- play, 60-yard drive that ended with a field goal. The defensive stand inside the 1 was all that kept the Panthers’ hopes flickering, down 24-6.
5. Missing Olsen
The score: Saints 24, Panthers 6, 2:30 to play in the third quarter.
The situation: On second and 6 at the Carolina 44.
The play: Newton had tight end Greg Olsen open down the seam, with a step on the defense, but overthrew him.
Why it mattered: Newton was sacked on third down and the Panthers punted. The Saints didn’t score, but the missed opportunity, combined with Gano’s missed field goal earlier in the quarter, dimmed whatever comeback hopes the Panthers had.