The Carolina Panthers (7-9) defeated the New Orleans Saints (7-9) 44-38 in the season finale for both teams. This game was a shootout as both teams tested each other in what was a typical rivalry game between two teams who really don't like each other. Carolina capped off a successful December run by going 4-0 in the month and helping their coach finish strong.
As for the Saints, they started off a disappointing 0-4 on the year but recovered only to have a roller coaster ride that saw them in different winning and losing streaks.
The Saints allowed over 500 yards of total offense most of which belonged to DeAngelo Williams as he had the game of his life. He had 210 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. Helping him on the ground was Mike Tolbert with three scores of his own, propelling the Panthers to a season high in points scored.
Cam Newton didn't have his best game but he didn't have to with the running game being as strong as it was against New Orleans. He was hurt late in the game but was able to bounce back and did enough to keep his team in the game and close it out at the end. This marked the second time in his career where he threw an interception and the Panthers won the game. For Carolina, this is the start of a welcomed trend.
The Saints did their best to stay in the game and at one point were in control. However, they were unable to hold on to the lead as the momentum shift swung in favor of Carolina. It didn't help their cause any with Drew Brees not being as sharp as he normally is and his receivers dropping passes.
However, with the end of the season, suspended head coach Sean Payton will be allowed to return to the team and pending league approval of his contract will become the highest paid coach in the NFL next year.
Both teams have a lot of work to do and the Panthers will need to decide what to do with Ron Rivera. Here are a few quick hits that support him remaining in place for another season:
- Carolina improved it's record from last year and despite being below .500 was the mark many people predicted they would finish at.
- He is 7-3 in December over the past two years. If Carolina can figure out how to win early and in the middle of the season, that is the kind of record that will serve the team well in terms of playoff contention.
- The Panthers came together and played hard for him. There is no denying the Panthers were a different team down the stretch and the mistakes that plagued them in the beginning of the season were seldom repeated in the last eight weeks.
- Carolina won with a lot of backups and younger players.
- Many of the losses were by seven points or less. Had Carolina been able to close those games out and get the win, they could easily have 10-12 wins this year.
Either way, this was a great finish to an otherwise disappointing season which featured two rivals playing each other hard. It was everything many fans expected and more. Hopefully, the 2013 season brings just as good of a rivalry.