Let's just say that, based on the Panthers' performance in another huge division game, the Buccaneers game was a fluke.
Sunday afternoon the Panthers were on the good end of another blowout, this one over division rival New Orleans, 30-7.
The defense was the difference maker in this game, holding the usually explosive Saints offense to just seven points. Sunday was the first time all season that the Saints were held to less than 24 points in a game.
Defensive end Julius Peppers forced a fumble on tight end Jeremy Shockey and cornerback Ken Lucas made an amazing play to pick Brees off. A couple of other Brees passes were close to being intercepted.
The Panthers' offense flowed smoothly after veering away from early run-heavy offensive tactics, mixing the run and pass nicely to open each up.
Field general Jake Delhomme completed 64 percent of his passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
The running game clicked again, as backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 134 yards. Stewart scored on an 18-yard run, and Williams scored on a four-yard pass late in the third quarter.
They also averaged 3.8 yards, but that's misleading. Early on coordinator Jeff Davidson ran too much and the Saints channeled everything into stopping the run. But once the offense had success with passing, it opened up the running game and the backs did better.
Steve Smith led the team with six catches for 112 yards and a touchdown.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, whose MVP-caliber season got put on hold for a week, was held to just 21-of-39 for 231 yards and an interception. For the first time all season he didn't throw a touchdown pass. Brees was handled for his worst overall performance of the season.
The only real offense the Saints got came from the running game. Running backs Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister combined for 5.7 yards per carry on 18 attempts. Bush left the game with a knee injury in the
Fullback Mike Karney scored the Saints' only touchdown on a one-yard run in the opening seconds of the second quarter.
The Saints only collected 343 yards of total offense; their second-lowest total of the season. Only the Washington Redskins have contained the Saints' dynamic offense more effectively; the 'Skins held the Saints to just 250 total yards. But the Redskins didn't have to deal with No.1 receiver Marques Colston—we did.
Bush, who had had considerable success returning punts recently, was completely shut down in the return game before he got hurt. He averaged five yards on three returns.
The issue with penalties that was such a thorn in the Panthers' side earlier in the season was unnoticeable today, as the Panthers committed just three penalties for 39 yards. Furthermore, two were bad calls. The good one was a five-yard "offside" penalty.
The Panthers blew out a division rival today and stayed in the hunt for first place. But most importantly, they proved to themselves and to us, their fans, that the Tampa Bay game was a fluke of the biggest proportions.
Now all we need is to cross our fingers and hope Seattle pulls off a miracle against the Bucs tonight.