Both the Saints and the Panthers were losers in their regular season finales. Both the Saints and the Panthers were already guaranteed playoff berth before those loses. Both the Saints and the Panthers had the same message afterward: “We’re not looking back. We’re looking ahead.”
It’s particularly important for the Panthers to do so. Looking back over the regular season, they would see a pair of games in which the Saints best them by 21 and 10 points. They would see the Saints rushing for 149 yards and five and a half yards per carry in week three, 148 yards and three touchdowns in week 13.
They would see the Saints forcing six turnovers in those two victories. And no Panther is more anxious to look ahead than quarterback Cam Newton. Against the Falcons in his last game, Newton missed his first nine passes. Threw three interceptions in the second half, the last with eight seconds remaining while compiling a quarterback rating of 31.5, the lowest of his seven-year, 109 game career. His favorite target, tight end Greg Olsen, had nine passes directed his way and caught one for 10 yards.
But even when Newton’s arm betrays him, his legs never do. He led all NFL quarterbacks with 754 yards rushing topping the Panthers in rushing seven of 16 games.
Newton can be wildly inconsistent. The Saints must assure that he remains so as he and they look ahead.