NEW ORLEANS — The streak is over for the Carolina Panthers.
And depending on how the medical tests turn out, a lot more might be as well.
Not only did the Panthers lose Sunday, 30-20 at the Louisiana Superdome, they might have also lost one of their top players.
Linebacker Thomas Davis left the game in the fourth quarter with a right knee injury. That’s the same knee in which he sprained the MCL during training camp and was out for nearly a month. He didn’t talk to reporters in the locker room after the game, but left with his right leg wrapped tightly under his clothes, with a noticeable limp.
“We’re hoping that it’s better than he expects it is,” linebacker Na’il Diggs said. “Right now, we’re just trying to encourage him, to keep it positive around him. ... That would be big, to lose one of our ace cards. He came in with real high expectations this season, and he was playing well.
“Right now all we can do is stay optimistic, maybe it’s just a couple of weeks with an MCL or whatever.”
The Panthers should find out upon returning home whether that’s just wishful thinking, but they left the Superdome Sunday night knowing that whatever slim margin of error they had this year is now gone.
They walked in confident, having never lost here under coach John Fox, but left something near a wreck, having dropped to 3-5 on the season.
Panthers coach John Fox said he told the team in the locker room that “I believe this is a still a good football team,” and there was some evidence toward that conclusion.
They jumped out to a 14-0 lead on two quick touchdown runs by DeAngelo Williams, and led 17-6 at halftime. But the Saints roared back, hitting big play after big play through the air, slicing through a defense that had looked solid at times.
But for all the Saints heroics, the Panthers still had time, and a chance, before one of their most trustworthy elements betrayed them.
Down 23-20 with 4 minutes and 36 seconds left, Williams took a hand-off from his own 2, or tried to. The ball popped loose, and Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove pounced on it for a game-clinching touchdown.
That ruined a 149-yard rushing day, though it also featured a dropped pass in the end zone.
The big mistakes will haunt them, but the small ones were just as bad. Playing without any fullback and just two tight ends, they squandered a first-and-goal from the Saints 1 when quarterback Jake Delhomme bumped into guard Mackenzy Bernardeau, and had to settle for a field goal.
That shows the kind of oddball existence they’ve been living this year, and the kind of thing that might end this season early.
“We just need to learn how to win, how to close a game when we’ve got the lead,” safety Chris Harris said. “I don’t know what the deal is, but somehow, someway, we’ve got to figure it out before it’s too late.”