A great effort in the first 29 minutes of Carolina's game Sunday led to a New Orleans rout in the final 31 minutes.
The defense allowed 617 yards and the offense hardly totaled 70 in the second half of the game, when they also failed to put any points on the board and quicky fell behind by four touchdowns.
One positive that Panthers fans can take from this game is that offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski may have lost his chance at a head coaching job. His offense was quickly figured out by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, so Chudzinski's creative play-calling was absent in the second half.
I hate to bring up the performance of refereeing and I'm typically even more reluctant to blame the zebras for affecting the outcome of a game, but today, they did a terrible job. Here are a few notes that I highlighted:
-Greg Olsen is led perfectly by Cam Newton for a potential touchdown, but safety Roman Harper grabs his right arm nearly a second before the ball arrives.
-Thomas Keiser is clearly mauled on a long Saints run that likely would have been stopped at the line had Keiser not been held.
-On an eventual touchdown drive, Jimmy Graham stiff-armed Jordan Senn by placing his hand directly on his facemask and lifting him. It was a clear offensive pass interference call, but instead resulted in a 29-yard reception.
-Darren Sproles lowers his helmet and sticks it directly into Jordan Senn's chest/neck; it's about time we shift the focus to protecting the defensive players as well because in New Orleans, offensive players were getting away with penalties for 60 minutes.
All season I've felt that Rob Chudzinski's play-calling has been overrated, and that feeling was only strengthened after today's performance.
In the second half, the Panthers offensive coordinator didn't adjust to the Saints defense and the play-calling suddenly fell flat. He got away from the run game that was effective all day and attempted to repeat the same trick plays that had already been run multiple times in the first half.
In the fourth quarter, Ron Rivera twice elected to punt in fourth-and-short situations; both times near the 50-yard line. The team was down by more than three scores when both decisions were made.
In the last game of the season, that's a terrible choice to make. Give your young offense a chance to improve in its last game of the season.
Sherrod Martin has had a solid season and gained strength as another big hitter on this inexperienced defense, but his play on Sunday was glaringly poor and he should accept responsibility for one of the worst defensive performances I've ever had the displeasure of viewing.
Martin was a liability in coverage and was attacked by Drew Brees all day. He was extremely slow to react and let Marques Colston get behind him in the final moments of the first half for a touchdown that shifted the momentum completely to New Orleans.
The defense's starting free safety was also absent in run support, and his open-field tackling is something that has become an obvious weak point.
I've been a proponent of Jeremy Shockey's leadership and attitude all season, but against the Saints, his presence was extremely negative.
He never seemed to understand that he has a rookie who is still learning the game at quarterback and that his poor body language has an effect on Newton. On several occasions Shockey was lazy on routes and slowed after getting out of his cut before throwing his hands in the air as if it were Newton's fault that he didn't expect his tight end to jog the remainder of his route.
I'll reiterate the emphasis of improved decision-making being the necessary component missing on this team right now. In the second quarter, Newton could have strolled into the end zone for a touchdown that would have tied the game, but instead forced a ball into double coverage—a play that resulted in an interception.
After taking a few hits in the second half and stalling on consecutive drives, Newton was mentally out of the game. He'll need to accept minor failures if he wants to progress mentally as a professional player.