For the New Orleans Saints (12-2), the 2018 season has been a wild ride; from losing their first game in a 48-40 crazy shootout to winning 10 in a row and looking invincible. Then came the near-shutdown in Dallas, an ugly 13-10 loss followed by two and a half quarters of sleepwalking football last week in Tampa.
Thankfully, after finally waking up in the latter stage of that weird 28-14 win against the Buccaneers, the Saints got some unexpected help last night from the Philadelphia Eagles (7-7) who defeated the Los Angeles Rams (11-3) 30-23 in L.A. and gave New Orleans a golden opportunity to clinch a first-round bye with a win tonight against the Carolina Panthers (6-8) in Charlotte. Indeed, with a win tonight, the Saints would take one more crucial step towards earning that all-important first-round bye in the playoffs.
Here is how the game unfolded:
Saints won the toss and deferred to the second half, as the Panthers started with the ball at their 25-yard line.
- On their first possession, the Panthers find success running between the tackles with Christian McCaffrey. But after a sack of Cam Newton by Demario Davis, Carolina is forced to punt.
- The Saints take over at their 14-yard line and begin with a five-yard run by Mark Ingram. After getting near midfield, New Orleans stalls and is forced to punt as well. Thomas Morstead pins the Panthers at their 10-yard line, in a scoreless game.
- On its second possession of the game, Carolina goes for it on 4th and 2 at midfield. With a trick play, Christian McCaffrey finds tight end Chris Manhertz for a 50-yard touchdown. After the PAT, the Panthers lead the Saints 7-0.
Did that just happen?!— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2018
Christian McCaffrey is throwing TD passes!
: #NOvsCAR on ESPN pic.twitter.com/OuugE1sCyu
- Alvin Kamara returns the kickoff to the 50-yard line and on the next play, Mark Ingram runs for 22 yards to Carolina’s 28-yard line. Saints eventually stall, and Wil Lutz kicks a 46-yard field goal. The Saints trail the Panthers 7-3.
Mark Ingram bounces off defenders for 22-yard run!#NOvsCAR pic.twitter.com/4TK6xsOhhH— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 18, 2018
- On their ensuing possession, the Panthers start at their 25-yard line, but fail to convert on third-and-one from their 34-yard line and punt.
- Saints start at their 25-yard line and Drew Brees finds tight end Benjamin Watson down to the Panthers’ 47-yard line. Carolina leads 7-3 as the quarter ends.
- Saints convert a third-and-one to continue their drive at Carolina’s 38-yard line. Inside the Panthers’ red zone, Drew Brees finds Tre’Quan Smith to convert yet another third down to the Panthers’ 9-yard line. Saints stall at the Panthers’ 6-yard line and settle for another Wil Lutz’s field goal. Saints trail the Panthers 7-6.
- The Panthers start their ensuing possession at their 25-yard line after a touchback from Lutz. After gaining a first down, the Panthers stall on 4th-and-13 from their 34-yard line. At this point of the game, the Saints’ defense is continuing its stellar play. The only touchdown for Carolina to this point of the game was on a trick play on 4th down.
- Tommylee Lewis returns the punt to the Saints’ 23-yard line. Saints run the ball effectively, but a penalty on Andrus Peat pushes the Saints back. Saints eventually stall and have to punt after three incomplete passes from Drew Brees.
- Panthers take over at their 23-yard line. On the first play of the drive, David Onyemata sacks Cam Newton for a 12-yard loss. The Panthers go three-and-out and are forced to punt again.
- Saints get the ball at their own 49-yard to start the drive and get just into Carolina’s territory as the two-minute warning hits. Drew Brees throws to Dan Arnold who drops the ball and James Bradberry intercepts it mid-air for what is now Drew Brees’ fifth pick of the season. Not Brees’ fault on this play however.
.@ThomasDavisSDTM breaks up the pass and it's PICKED.@Brad_B21 grabs the interception! #KeepPounding— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2018
: #NOvsCAR on ESPN pic.twitter.com/bJ7gfr82aR
- Panthers take over at the Saints’ 42-yard line and drive into the Saints’ red zone. Eli Apple intercepts Cam Newton in the end zone to end the threat and the Panthers go into halftime ahead of the Saints 7-6.
.@EliApple13 with the end zone PICK.— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2018
The @Saints take it right back before half.
: #NOvsCAR on ESPN pic.twitter.com/C7l0RIHTXc
- Panthers kick off to the Saints for a touchback. On the third play of the drive, center Max Unger goes off injured with what appears to be a concussion. On third-and-10, Brees’ pass to Tre’Quan Smith is incomplete, forcing the Saints to punt again.
- Panthers take over at their 17-yard line and face a third-and-12 on the third play of the drive. The pass falls incomplete and Carolina has to punt.
- Saints take the ball at their 24-yard line after their fifth penalty of the game. A completion to Michael Thomas is negated by yet another penalty, pushing the Saints back five yards. Saints eventually stall and punt. The Panthers rough and injure Thomas Morstead for a personal foul that extends the Saints’ drive at their own 45-yard line. Saints promptly lose eight yards and have to re-punt. Morstead who is fine, punts the ball to Carolina’s 15-yard line.
- Panthers drive the ball from their 15-yard line using a mix of passes and runs by Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey. Panthers get a big reverse play to D.J. Moore deep into Saints’ territory, but safety Vonn Bell punches the ball out and forces a fumble that linebacker A.J. Klein recovers!
The ball is loose!@TheVonnBell7 forces the D.J. Moore fumble— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2018
: #NOvsCAR on ESPN pic.twitter.com/yDSxCFeFgZ
- Saints take over at their 16-yard line and gain a first down, but Drew Brees gets sacked, pushing the ball back deep into Saints’ territory. New Orleans gets bailed out by a pass interference penalty against rookie cornerback Donte Jackson on Michael Thomas, keeping the Saints’ drive alive. Saints face a 2nd and 11 at their own 46-yard line as the quarter ends.
- Brees finds Michael Thomas for a 12-yard gain into Panthers’ territory. Taysom Hill gains 17 yards at the door of Carolina’s red zone. Alvin Kamara finishes the drive by running into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown, giving the Saints a 12-7 lead. New Orleans goes for two and Drew Brees throws a pick to Donte Jackson, giving the Panthers two points. The Saints lead 12-9. It’s Madness!!!
Alvin Kamara goes untouched for SIX!— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2018
: #NOvsCAR on ESPN pic.twitter.com/UwW6tTJSx0
.@_DJack01 just returned the 2-point conversion 98 YARDS TO THE HOUSE!!!— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2018
: #NOvsCAR on ESPN pic.twitter.com/gDnkWZyPcD
- Panthers take over at their 26-yard line and convert a third-and-10 to midfield. After a penalty pushes the Panthers back, Vonn Bell sacks Cam Newton, forcing the Panthers to punt.
- Saints take over at their own 35-yard line. Saints start the drive with a false start penalty, the team’s eighth of the night. Definitely not a beacon of discipline tonight on offense. Brees gets sacked on second down. On third-and-14, Brees, while absorbing a hit from Julius Peppers, finds Keith Kirkwood for a massive conversion of 19 yards to keep the drive alive.
Drew droppin' dimes— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2018
: #NOvsCAR on ESPN pic.twitter.com/u4yhOqoYyW
Saints continue their drive, with a beautiful 16 yards run by Alvin Kamara to the edge of the red zone. On 4th and inches from the Panthers’ 14-yard line, Saints go for it and Alvin Kamara converts with an incredible effort on a pitch play as the two-minute warning hits.
Kamara cuts it back for a first down on 4th and inches!#NOvsCAR pic.twitter.com/3tAD7lAs29— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 18, 2018
Saints run the ball, forcing Carolina to spend all their timeouts and run a reverse play with Tommylee Lewis. Lewis fumbles the ball through the end zone for a touchback, giving the Panthers the ball back
The Saints fumble into the end zone!@Panthers will take over at the 20— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2018
: #NOvsCAR on ESPN pic.twitter.com/bUyXcG6Dsb
- Panthers take over at their 20-yard line and drive to their 39-yard line. On 4th-and-5, Cam Newton’s pass falls incomplete and the Saints take over on downs.
Final Score: New Orleans: 12 - Carolina: 9
SAINTS WIN! SAINTS WIN!
FINAL: The @Saints improve to 12-2! #NOvsCAR #GoSaints— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2018
(by @Lexus) pic.twitter.com/YoOVZpz2G8
The @Saints march home sitting alone atop the NFC! #GoSaints pic.twitter.com/0VPtbHUPUW— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2018
Who gets your game ball from the Saints tonight?
This poll is closed
D-Fence! D-Fence! D-Fence!
Eli Apple, who is showing up big time!
Dennis Allen, whose unit is why this team is winning lately
I’m over here with my man ZipCode70816, anxiously eating cheeseburgers