Panthers vs. : Five plays that mattered

jperson@charlotteobserver.comDecember 22, 2013 

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Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (34) scored on a long touchdown run, but don’t forget that it was set up by an athletic interception of Drew Brees by linebacker Thomas Davis.

DAVID T. FOSTER, III — dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

1. Newton’s pick

The score: Scoreless, 11:48 left in first quarter.

The situation: Panthers ball, second-and-15 at the New Orleans 16.

The play: Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw high and a little behind Ted Ginn Jr., who got a hand on the ball and deflected it into the air behind him. Safety Malcolm Jenkins dived for the ball and intercepted it at the Saints’ 10 and returned it to the 14.

Why it mattered: Newton’s pick continued the Panthers’ red-zone issues the past three weeks. They settled for field goals their first two drives in the first meeting at New Orleans. But they were turned away with no points on their opening drive Sunday because of the Newton interception.

2. Saints’ onsides kick

The score: Saints 3, Panthers 0, 10:49 left in second quarter.

The situation: Saints kicking off from their 35.

The play: Following a New Orleans field goal, Thomas Morstead hit an onsides dribbler down the middle of the field. Backup linebacker Jason Williams had the best shot at it for the Panthers, but was blocked away from the ball. The Saints’ Ramon Humber recovered at the Saints’ 47.

Why it mattered: The play caught the Panthers flat-footed and allowed the Saints to maintain momentum -- and possession. Seven plays after the recovery, Shayne Graham booted a 24-yard field goal to put New Orleans up 6-0.

3. Davis’ pick of Brees

The score: Saints 6, Panthers 0, 2:00 left in second quarter.

The situation: Saints ball, third-and-6 at the New Orleans 36.

The play: Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw left for Kenny Stills. But Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis read the play, leaped and intercepted the pass at the Saints’ 43.

Why it mattered: The Panthers were in danger of going into halftime down at least 6-0, with rain in the second-half forecast. Instead, Davis swung momentum in a big way. On the following play, DeAngelo Willams cut back, found a seam and raced for a 43-yard touchdown and a 7-6 lead.

4. Graham’s long gainer

The score: Panthers 10, Saints 6, 11:57 left in fourth quarter.

The situation: Saints ball, second-and-7 at the New Orleans 6.

The play: With the Saints in the shadow of their goal line for a second straight series, Brees threw right for tight end Jimmy Graham. When cornerback Drayton Florence went for the ball and missed, Graham ran 46 yards to the Panthers’ 48.

Why it mattered: The play changed field position for the Saints, who had bogged down during the heavy rains in the third quarter. It also put Brees in a rhythm with Graham, who caught two more passes on the 97-yard drive that Graham capped with a 5-yard touchdown catch.

5. Ginn’s galloping catch-and-run

The score: Saints 13, Panthers 10, 55 seconds left in fourth quarter.

The situation: Panthers ball, first-and-10 at the Carolina 35.

The play: Given time to throw, Newton was able to stand in the pocket and wait for Ginn to come open on a deep in route. Newton hit Gin over the middle and he kept running for a 37-yard gain to the Saints’ 28.

Why it mattered: Out of timeouts and down by 3, the Panthers needed a big play to get them started. Ginn’s catch immediately put them in field goal position, and gave them time to start thinking about a touchdown. It was one of the biggest plays in the Panthers’ season.

Joseph Person

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