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Carolina Panthers 23
New Orleans Saints 20

This was as good a Thursday night game as we have had in a while in that what started off as a very one sided game ended up with an exciting finish thanks to a late surge by the Saints and the Panthers struggling towards the end of the game.

The Panthers offence was up and down for most of the game as they struggled to make any headway in the run game and so were often forced to pass the ball with mixed success. The run game was particularly bad as Cam Newton, Jonathan Steward, and Ted Ginn all had runs of ten yards or more, and yet the Panthers managed a paltry fifty yards in total. Jonathan Stewart’s eighteen carries for thirty-one yards looks particularly anaemic, although these numbers will have been hurt by a dangerous attempt to run out the clock that nearly cost the Panthers the game in the fourth quarter. Cam Newton managed not to turn the ball over, but he completed less that fifty percent of his passes, but did manage to connect up with Ted Ginn for a forty yard touchdown thanks to a great catch at the back of the end zone at the end of the second quarter. This game could have been won a lot more easily if the Panthers had kept playing offence into the fourth quarter, but the offensive line struggled a lot throughout the game and the attempts to run out the clock just did not work.

The Saints defence played better than I was expecting, and whilst I knew it had taken some steps forward since the start of the season, I was not expecting them to cause as many problems for the Panthers as they did. The real star of the show was the Saints front seven who effectively shut down the Panthers running game, as well as getting two sacks and seven quarterback hits. In fact they hurried Newton several times, with Dannell Ellerbe coming up with four tackles, a sack, and two quarterback hits. The Panthers’ struggles in the passing game were as much to do with Cam Newton’s accuracy as coverage, but the pressure he was under was surely a factor and re-enforces the old maxim that good coverage helps create pass rush, and pass rush helps create good coverage.

The Saints offence had a harder time scoring than the Panthers for much of the game, but they actually out-gained the Panthers by nearly one hundred and fifty yards. That said, part of that seemed to be that their running game improved when Mark Ingram went out of the game in the third quarter and Tim Hightower came into the game. Hightower amassed sixty-nine yards on just twelve carries including a long of twenty-seven yards. The Panthers were able to pressure Drew Brees who was sacked three times and hit a further four times, but he threw for over two hundred and fifty yards and two touchdowns with only one interceptions. Rookie receiver Michael Thomas led the team with five catches for sixty-eight yards, but Brees had nine different players catch balls as he distributed the ball with characteristic skill, but in the end it wasn’t enough.

The Panthers defence has been better since the bye, the front seven coming back to form as their very young secondary came together. They struggled later in this game, with 6ft 6 Brandon Coleman catching the Saints’ first touchdown over 5ft 9 Robert McClain with Leonard Johnson having gone out of the game. However, the real worry for the Panthers will be Luke Kuechly who left the game sobbing in the fourth quarter and who is once more in the concussion protocol. Their leading tackler missed three games last season to a concussion, and whilst Friday’s Instagram picture with a smiling Kuechly may give hope to some, you have to be worry about how much more football he should play. As fantastic a player as Kuechly is, and I have been very bullish on my praise in the past, the troublesome nature of head injuries in football and the position he plays means it may be time for him to seriously consider his career.

This was a tight game that should have been a highlight of the Thursday night schedule, but with two players now in the concussion protocol the gloss has come off the game. As much as I love football, we cannot and should not ignore what can happen to players, and I just hope that both players make a full recovery and listen to their doctors.