Carolina looked invincible for eight straight weeks, but Drew Brees and the Saints made them look mortal on Sunday Night Football. New Orleans kept the pedal down on offense, while the Panthers showed an inability to hang in a shootout. The result was an impressive Saints victory, 31-13 and sole ownership atop the NFC South.
The league's top-ranked defense was over-matched almost immediately. Brees threw three second-quarter touchdowns to jump out to a large halftime lead. A no-name Panthers secondary had no answer for Marques Colston, who finished with 125 yard receiving and two touchdowns.
Brees was clean for much of the night. Carolina's vaunted defensive line wasn't a factor, managing to sack the Saints quarterback once. A lack of pressure was a huge problem throughout the game; it exposed the Panthers' weaknesses in its secondary and put pressure on a group of players that have hit their ceiling based on talent. Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden dubbed them "The Legion of Whom," but the unit deserved no nickname on Sunday night.
Defensive problems bled into the Panthers offense, shut down by aggressive Rob Ryan defensive scheming. A suspect offensive line offered no protection for Cam Newton, who was pressured almost every passing snap and was sacked five times. Newton finished with 160 yards passing, and while he didn't turn the ball over it was a terrible game.
The game has major implications in the NFC South. Carolina and New Orleans meet in the final game of the season, but if they split the series the Saints will win the division based on tiebreakers. Winning the NFC South is near-impossible the Panthers, but they still possess the top wild card with the loss.
Fantasy studs and duds
Drew Brees was sensational. He finished with 313 passing yards and four touchdowns.
Cam Newton and Steve Smith both struggled. They paired for one touchdown, but were unable to crack the Saints defense outside of a fourth quarter score.
Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart left the game with a knee injury, and did not return.
Did they cover?
12/15: New Orleans Saints vs. St. Louis Rams