The Panthers' defense, the second-best in the league, was made to look like the second-worst by quarterback Drew Brees and an offense that scored more points (21) in the second quarter than Carolina had given up in any game during its eight-game winning streak. The Saints defense that gave up 429 yards against the Seahawks completely bottled up Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who had been mentioned in MVP conversations the past few weeks.
The best news for the Panthers in Sunday night's 31-13 shellacking was they played so poorly that the Superdome crowd attempting to break the Guinness world record for noise, set in Seattle six days ago, had little to get rowdy about after halftime and came up short.
At least the Panthers (9-4) didn't have plane troubles for their return flight and won't have to spend another night on the road, which is what happened to New Orleans after its 34-7 Monday night loss in Seattle.
"It stinks," Carolina tackle Jordan Gross said. "It's a good reminder [that] if you don't play well, you get your butt kicked."
It's also, Gross reminded, not the end of the world.
"The sky isn't falling," he said. "We just got used to winning eight weeks in a row. We wanted to win. We prepared well. We just didn't play well."
How Carolina responds next week against the New York Jets after its franchise-record winning streak was brought to a screeching halt will be key. Winning the NFC South is almost out of the question unless Carolina wins out and New Orleans (10-3) losses two of three -- including the rematch in Charlotte in two weeks.
The Panthers also aren't guaranteed a wild-card spot. They have a one-game lead over Arizona (8-5), which owns the tiebreaker against them based on a 22-6 victory before the winning streak began.
"I feel good we can learn from this and get a little revitalized," Gross said. "You win eight in a row and everything is peaches and cream. When you lose, you get reminded of all your little faults, so it might be good for us. We're right in the mix of the playoff picture. The worst thing we can do is mope and hang our heads and let one loss turn into two."
The Saints didn't let that happen, for sure. They took out all of their frustration from the embarrassment in Seattle. They dominated Carolina in just about every phase, particularly on offense.
Brees had four touchdown passes against a defense that had given up only three touchdowns -- period -- in the previous four games, a defense that was allowing a league-low 13.1 points per game.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback looked like he was shooting fish in a barrel against the Carolina secondary, completing 30 of 42 passes for 313 yards. His receivers got off the line so cleanly, they looked uncovered at times, particularly Marques Colston, who had nine catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
"We have to put this loss behind us right now. ... The Jets will not feel sorry for us," outside linebacker Thomas Davis said.
The Panthers weren't feeling sorry for themselves, either. While there were long faces after a game for the first time in more than two months, there wasn't a sense of panic.
"We will get over this one very quickly because we still have a lot of football left to play and a lot still left on the line," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said defiantly.
Rivera also was disappointed. He expected a better performance and never dreamed even the Saints would put up 31 points against his defense.
"We're a better football team than we showed," he said.
The Panthers showed little on this night. After settling for field goals on their first two drives for a 6-0 lead when they could have made a statement with touchdowns, they did little right. Whether it was a lack of execution, as players and coaches blamed, or simply superior execution by the Saints can be debated. But there is no debating that this was a good old-fashioned whipping.
And because of it, the Panthers are again under the pressure of having to win.
"We've kind of been in that position since we started in that 1-3 hole," Gross said. "We've been in must-win [mode] to get in the playoff picture. Nothing has changed as far as that goes.
"We might have a better sense of urgency now than had we won. I'd rather get our butt kicked this week than four weeks from now. It's frustrating. Now the ball is out of our courts as far as the division goes, but we've got a good team. Still no need to panic."
That was the message throughout the locker room. Newton called it a "great measuring stick for who we are and where we have to go."
And the Panthers will get to measure themselves again against New Orleans in two weeks.
"I felt those guys were better than us today," Newton said. "Are they better than us? No."