|Panthers waste strong defensive effort in 12-9 loss to Saints|
|Playoff hopes go flat on Monday Night Football|
|Published Tuesday, December 18, 2018 12:03 am|
|PHOTO | CURTIS WILSON|
|Carolina Panthers linebackers Thomas Davis, left, and Luke Kuechly, right, tackle New Orleans' Mark Ingram in the Saints' 12-9 win Monday at Bank of America Stadium. The loss dropped Carolina to 6-8 while the Saints improved to 12-2.|
The Carolina Panthers’ best defensive performance of the season could not save their playoff hopes.
A 12-9 loss to NFC South leader New Orleans (12-2) marked the third time the Panthers held an opponent to under 20 points this season and are now 2-1 when doing so. It also extended Carolina’s losing streak to six games.
“[The defense] took the ball away when they had to,” coach Ron Rivera said. “They scored when they had an opportunity.”
Cornerbacks James Bradberry and rookie Donte Jackson produced critical picks. Jackson’s was returned for two points after a Saints’ score, which Rivera called “spectacular,” despite his “couple of young mistakes” this season. A two-point defensive conversion has only occurred seven times in NFL history.
“We just want to come out here and make plays,” Jackson said, “regardless of who makes the play on the defense. That’s what we preach all week, when we are preparing. ‘Go out there and make plays, and don’t be afraid to make the big plays.’ In this case, James went out there and made a great play. He helped give our team a chance to win. I was able to come back and do the same thing. It’s just some key points on a great defensive output.”
Said Bradberry: “I knew [Jackson] was going to score. That’s why I didn’t run down there.”
Bradberry snatched his first interception of the season, returning it for 29 yards. Carolina, which has 13 picks, had gone without an interception since their last win – Nov. 4 versus Tampa Bay.
“I haven’t returned a pass since my last interception,” Bradberry said. “I was pretty determined. I needed it.”
Carolina’s offense could not match their defense, despite offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s special sauce in the first quarter. Running back Christian McCaffrey’s 50-yard pass on fourth-and-2 to tight end Chris Manhertz established a 7-0 lead that Carolina kept through three quarters.
“It’s something that Norv has been cooking up for a while,” Rivera said. “He was looking for the right opportunity. That’s what this was. This was the right opportunity to call it.”
The Panthers conclude their home schedule against division opponent Atlanta on Dec. 23, before heading to New Orleans for the season finale on Dec. 30.
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