CHARLOTTE -- Dwayne Jarrett waited through nearly three seasons of stops and starts and a recent stint on the Panthers' inactive list to score his first professional touchdown.
Then he had to wait some more.
Everything about Jarrett's 30-yard scoring catch from
But before he could celebrate, referee Alberto Riveron intervened. The catch was under instant-replay review.
"I was like, 'Oh, come on,'" Jarrett said.
But after waiting so long for the score, what was a minute more -- especially when the score was upheld? It just gave Jarrett a little longer to absorb the moment.
"It definitely felt like the monkey off my back -- and it was a heavy one, too," Jarrett said. "I just kept believing in myself, because as a person, if you don't have that faith, you can get down on yourself."
Better than the score was the sideline scene that followed it. Jarrett turned into a politician, accepting a seemingly endless parade of handshakes and hugs from his teammates, who knew exactly what the precious score meant to him after three mostly frustrating seasons.
"It was the best feeling. We're a band of brothers here," Jarrett said. "We go through winning together, losing together, camp together. I think they knew how much it meant."
This was Jarrett's finest day as a professional. Even though he didn't start, he caught all five passes targeted to him, ringing up 68 yards in the process.
"Sometimes it takes game reps to really have the light come on," head coach John Fox said. "He's had moments; I remember the Arizona game here a regular season ago where he had two big-time third-down plays that probably saved us the game because it kept them (the Cardinals offense) off the field."
STATS AND SUCH: By holding the Saints to 10 points, the Panthers prevented them from becoming one of the three highest-scoring teams in league history. New Orleans needed 41 points Sunday to match the 1983 Washington Redskins, whose total of 541 points is the third-best in NFL annals, ranking behind the 1998 Minnesota Vikings (556 points) and the 2007 New England Patriots (589 points) ...
... Carolina's defense gave up just 26 points in the last three games of the season and 62 in the last six. Only once in that span did they permit more than one offensive touchdown -- in Week 14 against New England. (In Week 12, one of the Jets' two touchdowns came via a Darrelle Revis interception return) ...
... After averaging 17.3 points per game in their first 13 contests, the Panthers averaged 30.0 in their last three ...
... The Panthers forced three New Orleans turnovers -- two fumbles and an interception -- to push their season turnover margin to plus-6, including plus-20 in the season's final 10 games. The Panthers were minus-14 after six games -- an average of minus-2 per game -- and nearly reversed that to plus-2 in November, December and January ...
... Carolina's 37 takeaways were its most since 2005, when it had 42. The team averaged 3.0 takeaways per game in the last 10 weeks after having just seven in the first six games.
NEXT SEASON: The Panthers' third-place finish filled in the final two gaps in their roster of opponents for 2010, giving them a home game against third-place teams from the NFC North (Chicago) and a trip to the NFC East's third-place finisher (New York Giants).
Carolina already knew it would face all four teams in the NFC West and AFC North divisions, per the league's scheduling rotation. The Panthers have an 11-game regular-season winning streak against the NFC West dating back to a Nov. 14, 2004 win at San Francisco and a 5-3 record during their 2002 and 2006 tours through the AFC North.