Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers (6-10) ran into a buzz-saw on the road today, losing 45-17 to Drew Brees' New Orleans Saints (13-3) in their worst defeat of the season to end their 2011 campaign.
The Panthers, who closed the season with a 4-2 record in their final six games, played New Orleans tough in the first half, but the Saints made the halftime adjustments necessary to shut out Carolina's high-scoring offense in the second half.
With the game tied at 17-17 following Jonathan Stewart's 29-yard touchdown run with 1:24 left in the second quarter, the Panthers seemed to have momentum heading into the break.
But just over a minute later, the Saints' Drew Brees and Marques Colston hooked up on a 42-yard touchdown pass, beating Panthers' safety Sherrod Martin in the end zone, to take a 24-17 lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
The Saints outscored the Panthers 21-0 in the second half to end Carolina's season, as New Orleans gets set to host a first-round playoff game against the NFC's sixth seed in the Wild Card round.
Drew Brees, who broke Dan Marino's all-time NFL record for most single-season passing yards on a nine-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles in Week 16 against the Falcons, obliterated his own mark by completing 28-of-35 passes for 389 yards and five touchdowns.
How did the Panthers perform vs expectations this season?
Brees finished his record-breaking regular season with 5,476 yards passing and 46 touchdowns against just 14 interceptions, while guiding the Saints to the greatest single-season yardage total in NFL history. He has broken the old mark of 7,075 yards set by Kurt Warner's 2000 St. Louis Rams.
Also, Brees' favorite target, Tight End Jimmy Graham, broke the original Kellen Winslow's record for most receiving yards in a season at his position.
Finally, though it did not count for much in the end, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton surpassed the 4,000 yard passing mark, to become the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to reach that total in a single season.
Become a fan of Jimmy Grappone on Bleacher Report. You can also follow the author on facebook and on twitter @imapone24.