- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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Playoff picture: The Panthers may not have looked like a playoff team as their eight-game winning streak came to a crashing halt Sunday night, but they still control their playoff destiny. They remain the fifth seed in the NFC, tied with San Francisco at 9-4 but owning the tiebreaker because of a 10-9 victory over the 49ers. Arizona is the biggest threat to knock the Panthers out of a wild-card spot. The Cardinals are 8-5 and own the tiebreaker edge because of a 22-6 victory against Carolina in October. The Eagles also are right there at 8-5. So the Panthers need to win at least two of their last three games, and maybe all three. They also could clinch next Sunday, but a lot would have to happen that likely won't.
Stewart's knee: What originally was diagnosed as a knee contusion could be worse for running back Jonathan Stewart. He will undergo an MRI on Monday. Fortunately for the Panthers, if it is serious they still have a solid backfield with DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert. They carried the load the first eight weeks when Stewart was on the physically unable to perform list recovering from offseason ankle surgery. In some ways they may be better off. Williams seems to perform better when he gets more carries. He had 52 yards on 13 carries against the Saints.
Legion of Gloom: For whatever reason, the Panthers weren't nearly as physical with receivers coming off the line as they game planned to be. They were soft, particularly in the middle of the field where Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham caught two touchdowns each. It's a problem that has crept up from time to time during the season, but never as consistently as it did on this night. It must be addressed immediately for the Panthers to have a chance at making the playoffs and advancing. They can't be the Legion of Gloom as they were dubbed earlier this year.
Red zone blues: This game really was lost in the first quarter when the Panthers dominated the clock but came away with two field goals for a 6-0 lead. Had Carolina scored a touchdown on one of the two trips inside the New Orleans 20, this might have been a different game. Statistically, that's what should have happened. Carolina had an 86.8 scoring percentage inside the red zone with 24 touchdowns to nine field goals before Sunday. A 10-0 or 14-0 lead might have completely changed the way the rest of this one unfolded. That New Orleans converted four of five trips inside the 20 against the league's best red zone defense also defied the odds.