Disappointing loss to Carolina closes Saints’ season

Jude Papillion, Editor-in-Chief

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Matthew Tate

In one of the most disappointing matchups in recent memory for Saints fans, the 7-10 New Orleans Saints fell 10-7 to the Carolina Panthers in the final game of their 2022-23 campaign. After falling to their division rivals at Caesars Superdome, any hope of the Saints reaching the NFL playoffs this season has been diminished.

The Saints managed to get on the board first when Andy Dalton found Chris Olave for a 25-yard touchdown strike on the game’s opening drive. Olave’s 60-yard game propelled him over the 1000-yard receiving mark for the season. In addition to leading the team in receiving yards, receptions and yards per catch this season, he joined Michael Thomas and Marques Colton as the only Saints player to ever record over 1,000 yards in their rookie season. 

After a punt by Carolina, then New Orleans and then another by Carolina, the Saints seemed poised to have another promising drive. Running back Alvin Kamara spurred life into the Saints offense when he charged left side for 22 yards, his longest rush of the game; however, the drive came to an end when Wil Lutz misfired on a 44-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter. 

After another punt by the Panthers, the Saints stalled again — this time turning the ball over on downs when Kamara was stuffed for a loss on fourth and one, giving Carolina the ball back on their 24-yard line midway through the second quarter. 

Though Carolina drove deep into Saints’ territory on their next drive, Saints’ safety Tyrann Mathieu intercepted a pass by Panthers’ quarterback Sam Darnold at the 2-yard line. Mathieu’s interception was his third of the season, and he wrapped up the year with eight tackles on Sunday. The 10-year veteran finished with a career-high 91 tackles in his first season playing for his hometown team while also leading the team in takeaways with four. The turnover put the ball on the Saints’ 43-yard line and gave his offense another opportunity to quickly put points on the board before the end of the half. 

They were unable to do so. After Dalton found Olave for a 12-yard reception, Panthers’ cornerback C.J. Henderson forced Olave to fumble by punching the ball out, and Xavier Woods was there to recover it and give possession back to Carolina and end the half. 

A brawl between New Orleans’ defensive end Marcus Davenport and Carolina running back D’Onta Foreman led to ejections for both teams to start the second half. For Carolina, losing their season rushing yards leader did not hamper their opening drive as they drove down the field and scored to tie the game at seven apiece with 6:52 to go in the third quarter. While Darnold took off for the endzone on the touchdown play, Mathieu forced him to fumble at the 3-yard line, but Carolina offensive lineman Michael Jordan recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. 

The Saints and Panthers exchanged punts to end the third quarter, and both teams continued to exchange punts for seven consecutive drives in the fourth quarter. The streak ended when Darnold threw his second interception of the game to Daniel Sorenson of the Saints for the safety’s second pick in three games.

With 1:36 remaining, the Saints held the ball on the Carolina 35-yard line. If the Saints managed to gain 0 yards before fourth down, Lutz would be tasked with drilling a 53-yard attempt. The Saints offense was unable to get anything going in three critical downs, instead losing 2 yards and setting Lutz up from 55-yards. Carolina’s Henderson blocked this attempt, which marked Lutz’s eighth miss of the year and second of the game after missing all of last season due to injury.  

The Panthers took over at their own 45-yard line with 1:20 on the clock and two timeouts. Up to this point in the game, Darnold had just 11 passing yards, but the fifth-year quarterback showed up when it mattered. 

After he was sacked for a 3-yard loss, Darnold scrambled for 13 yards and then found Terrace Marshall Jr. for a 21-yard reception that placed the ball on New Orleans’ 24-yard line and with 0:03, Eddie Piniero booted a 42-yard field goal to give Carolina a 10-7 win and their first sweep over the Saints in seven seasons

“We did not do enough good things to win the game … We had some opportunities we didn’t take advantage of,” first-year Saints’ head coach Dennis Allen said. “That’s what happens when you don’t take advantage of the opportunities. You let a team hang around. They just hung around, and they kept fighting and had an opportunity to win at the end.”

Saints’ quarterback Andy Dalton led the New Orleans offense going 15-for-25 with 171 yards while Alvin Kamara led the rushing attack with 107 yards on 23 carries.

While the offense was unable to score aside from the opening drive, the Black and Gold defense allowed fewer than 20 points for their eighth consecutive game, a feat the team has not accomplished since a stretch from 1991 to 1992. The unit also prevented opposing teams from eclipsing 10 points on offense for three straight games. 

The Saints’ defense allowed just 32 net passing yards as their season tackle leader, Demario Davis, finished with 8 versus Carolina. Darnold finished 5-of-15 for 43 yards and two interceptions. Despite Darnold earning a 2.8 passer rating  — the lowest of an opposing quarterback against New Orleans in history  — the now 7-10 Saints will miss the NFL playoffs for the second-consecutive season

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