Wrap-up: Saints 45, Panthers 17
January, 1, 2012
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com
Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 45-17 victory against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
What it means: The Saints tied the 2009 team for the best record in franchise history at 13-3. They also are in as the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs, assuming San Francisco defeats St. Louis, and they’ll play the No. 6 seed, which will be either Detroit or Atlanta. The Panthers finished their season at 6-10 and in third place in the NFC South.
Icing on the cake: Drew Brees added another 389 yards to his record for passing yards in a season. Darren Sproles set a new NFL record for all-purpose yards, and Jimmy Graham passed Kellen Winslow’s record for receiving yards in a season by a tight end.
Statement game: Receiver Marques Colston probably made himself some money Sunday. He had seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns. With his contract expiring, Colston provided another reminder of how valuable he is.
What I liked: The Saints looked sharp in their final test before the start of the postseason. You can make a case they’re playing as well as any team in football right now. The Saints have not lost since Oct. 30 at St. Louis.
Can we have a do-over? The Saints have to be kicking themselves for the loss to the Rams and an October loss to the Bucs. Those ended up being two of the worst teams in the NFL. Had the Saints won those games, they could have been 15-1.
What I didn’t like: I’m not sure coach Sean Payton really needed to play his starters into the fourth quarter. San Francisco had a big lead on St. Louis and the Saints were winning easily. That’s two weeks in a row where it can at least be perceived that Payton was running up the score against a division opponent. That could come back to haunt him in the long term. There did not appear to be any serious injuries for the Saints, but we don’t always find out about injuries right away.
The start of something good: Despite the loss, the Panthers had a nice second half of the season. They won four of their final six games and established the fact that they have a big-time offense with quarterback Cam Newton. If coach Ron Rivera patches up his defense in the offseason, the Panthers could be a playoff contender next season.
What’s next: The Saints will host either the Falcons or Lions in the first round of the playoffs. If Detroit wins its game against Green Bay, the Falcons will play the Saints. If Detroit loses and Atlanta wins, the Saints will host the Lions. The time and day of the game is expected to be announced later tonight.