And when the Saints scored to take a 13-10 lead with 6:37 remaining in the fourth quarter – against a defense that had been so effective for so long – it felt like it wasn't going to be their day. An offense that was 0-for-9 on third down felt responsible for the three-point deficit.
"It's kind of frustrating as an offensive player when you don't put up the performance that you want to," quarterback
Said left tackle
But this was the Panthers' day. With rainwater streaming down from the upper deck and a field soaked from a steady downpour, Bank of America Stadium became a scene of jubilant celebration after a 17-13 Carolina victory – a win that puts the Panthers in control of the division and in the postseason for the first time since 2008.
With 55 seconds left, the Panthers offense took the field at its own 35-yard line with no timeouts.
Thirty-two seconds and five plays later, wide receiver
"Before they went out," cornerback
But the comeback, though it may have felt magical, really wasn't. It was remarkable, but it wasn't magical. For the first time in the second half, the Panthers offense started making plays.
"Cam was good in the pocket. He hit the open receiver. Guys made plays," Gross said. "There was really no magic to it."
On the first play of the decisive series, Newton hung in the pocket as it began collapsing around him and hit wide receiver
"I had time to sit in there and let the routes come open," Newton said.
After an incomplete pass, Newton connected with tight end
On second down, Newton went to the end zone. Hixon – split out left in place of wide receiver
Safety Malcolm Jenkins blitzed Newton, but fullback
"He put it right on the money," Hixon said.
Hixon slid to the sopping wet ground and reeled in the touchdown with 23 seconds left.
The game ended moments later when safety
"After that it was like, 'Man, we're in the playoffs. We're in,'" Mitchell said. "Today we played our game. It was an old-fashioned game in the rain. Our team was just so tough today."
After a scoreless first quarter, the Saints took a 6-0 lead behind two field goals from Shayne Graham in the second quarter.
But that lead was erased in a matter of seconds.
On third-and-six from the New Orleans 36-yard line with two minutes to go in the first half, linebacker
"It was something we worked on all week long," Davis said. "Sell the blitz and get back in coverage. Brees never saw me I don't think."
On the first play following the turnover, running back
"Once he creased it and got past the safety it was just a footrace from there," Rivera said.
The Panthers extended their lead to 10-6 when
But the Saints regained the lead with an 11-play, 97-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Brees floated a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham with 6:31 left in the game.
After both teams went three-and-out, Rivera had a tough decision to make on fourth-and-seven prior to the two-minute warning.
With two timeouts at his disposal Rivera elected to punt, but it didn't work as planned. He hoped the two-minute warning would be able to stop the clock for Carolina after the first play of the Saints' drive. But the punt team took too long to snap the ball, and the punt was downed at the New Orleans 26 at the 1:57 mark.
"Unfortunately, we didn't get the operation in time, and that's disappointing," Rivera said.
Despite, the miscue, the defense forced the three-and-out they needed, setting the stage for the dramatic playoff-clinching comeback and a shot at the division title next week in Atlanta.
"It's exciting," Rivera said. "But we still have a lot business left at hand."