6-Pack: Flags, no flags and too many mistakes

1) Costly Non-Call

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Before we get going, let's get one thing straight: The Panthers lost to the Saints on Sunday because of factors bigger than referee decisions. But a couple of calls sure made the task tougher. 

The most notable was a non-call. 

Down 21-14 at the half, Carolina opened the third quarter with the ball and a third-and-2 from its 27-yard line. That's when Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson jumped toward right tackle Daryl Williams, who immediately looked to an official while pointing at Hendrickson. But no flags flew, and seconds later, former Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein came through unblocked for a 13-yard sack of quarterback Cam Newton

"The ball didn't get snapped but it created a false start by the right tackle, so it's really a neutral zone infraction," said former official and FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira on the broadcast. "The play should have been shut down and there should not have been the big loss."

But according to head coach Ron Rivera, the officials "didn't see it." 

"They didn't think we reacted. They didn't think we moved enough for them to throw the flag and blow the play dead," said Rivera, who was then asked if the confusion may have caused his offensive linemen to miss their assignment on Klein. 

"Unfortunately, it could have," Rivera continued. "I'm not saying it did or didn't. But that's ball. They're going to make calls and they're going to miss calls."

Instead of a fresh set of downs, the Panthers were forced to punt. The Saints then went 67 yards on eight plays to take a 28-14 lead. 


2) Costly Call

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A quarter before that non-call, defensive end Julius Peppers made a mistake that helped New Orleans take its first two-touchdown lead of the game. But afterward, Peppers still didn't think it was a flag-worthy mistake. 

"I thought it was pretty ticky-tack," he said. "To be honest with you, I thought it was (BS)."

With the Saints facing a third-and-5 from the Panthers' 26, Peppers met wideout Tommylee Lewis near the sideline and three yards short of the sticks. But things kept going onto the sideline. 

"I saw (he was) still trying to gain yards, I wrapped him up on the boundary," Peppers explained. "Our momentum started going backwards, and once we started to fall, I let him go."

But what officials saw was unsportsmanlike conduct, a penalty that gave the Saints a first down. And instead of what would have likely been a field goal try, they cashed in that break three plays later with a touchdown.

"At the end of the day you can't hurt your team like that," Peppers said. 

"But that was one play in the game. We still had chances after that. We just didn't execute."


3) No Fun

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If you disagree with Peppers, or my assertion that factors bigger than the refs cost the Panthers the game, think about how many plays the Panthers could have made. For example: 

1.) After the non-called neutral zone infraction, the Saints converted a pair of third downs on their ensuing touchdown drive. 

2.) After Peppers' penalty, the Panthers allowed the Saints to turn a third-and-8 into a 10-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Michael Thomas. 

There's plenty more. 

"I made a lot of mistakes," admitted Devin Funchess. 

The wideout had averaged nearly six catches and 98 yards in his previous three games since assuming the No. 1 role, but Funchess didn't make his first grab until the final minute of the third quarter. 

"They didn't do nothing," Funchess said when asked what the Saints did to slow him down. "They didn't do a thing."

According to him, Funchess was his own worst enemy. 

The most obvious sequence came early in the fourth quarter when on a third-and-6 from the Saints' 12 in a 28-14 game, Funchess dropped a slant. 

"Lack of concentration trying to get in the end zone before I had the ball," he said. "The next play they came back to me and I messed up again." 

With the Panthers needing those six yards on fourth down, Funchess ran an out route against cornerback Ken Crowley. It was a reception, but the play picked up only five yards. 

"I didn't get my depth like I was supposed to," said Funchess, who finished with 60 yards on four receptions, including a late touchdown. "That's on me. I dropped the ball on that one."


4) As Advertised

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Before the battle of the league's No. 2 defense and No. 2 offense, the Saints had shown their success is no longer solely dependent on the arm of Drew Brees. They proved it again Sunday. 

The running back tandem of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara gashed Carolina's third-ranked run defense for 145 yards on the ground. They also tossed in 103 yards on 11 receptions. 

"I like the two backs that they have. Ingram and Kamara are great backs, but we just have to be better at the point of attack," safety Mike Adams said. "We didn't do our jobs the way we're supposed to."

The deepest cut was early in the second quarter when Ingram broke through an eight-man front for a 72-yard gain. 

"It was wide open. I tried to hit the hole as fast as I could and hit the end zone," Ingram said. "They were sleeping on my speed, so I have to put the burners on them every now and then. 

"I was trying to get my Alvin Kamara mode and get my 'Matrix' on."

Kamara, the third-round pick who's compared himself to the movie character who can move at a different speed than anyone else, continued his rise to stardom. Coming off his fourth straight Rookie of the Week award, Kamara totaled a game-high 126 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns for the third time in 12 games. 

"He's a good player. We knew that going into the game. He's good for a reason," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "He's good inside; he's good catching the ball; he's hard to tackle." 

According to Pro Football Focus, Kamara and Ingram were both hard to stop, forcing the Panthers to miss a dozen tackles. But the headliner continued to be the rookie, who safety marveled at Thursday for an ability to "take a hit and he kind of goes limp to a side but he keeps his balance with the other half of his body."

"He's a stronger runner than I expected out of him," Coleman said. "He's going to be a good running back in this league."


5) Not-So-Special Teams

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Despite all their mistakes, the Panthers still had life with nine minutes left. 

After Funchess came up short on that fourth down near the Saints' goal line, the defense forced a three-and-out. That meant Carolina would get the ball back, still down 14, but with good field position. 

The offense had to stay on the sideline, though. 

"I just didn't take care of the ball," said Kaelin Clay, who fumbled a punt that was recovered by the Saints. "I just didn't get the job done."

A week after Clay and Carolina's special teams left New Jersey on a high, they hit their lowest point of the season. Clay's fumble was the second of two huge errors made by the unit. 

The first was in the second quarter when the Panthers set up to punt from their 31. That's when Michael Palardy inexplicably dropped the ball. 

"I tried to get it in my hand and get a good grip and as I went to go drop it and extend my arm out, it just kind of slipped out of my fingertips," Palardy said. 

The Panthers' punter, who had been rock solid most of the season, recovered his fumble and attempted a throw to safety Colin Jones that fell incomplete. But could Palardy have tried a rugby-style kick instead of morphing into an emergency quarterback? 

"I wasn't really thinking about that," he said. "I kind of saw some people in my face and saw a couple guys open, so I figured I'd give it a shot to throw it and at least get a completion out of it." 

The thing was, even if it had been completed, the Panthers would have been called for an ineligible man downfield. 

"It was one of those accidents. They happen," Palardy said. "Sometimes you can't control it. It's part of football and you've got to move on." 

Despite all their mistakes, the Panthers still had life with nine minutes left. 

After Funchess came up short on that fourth down near the Saints' goal line, the defense forced a three-and-out. That meant Carolina would get the ball back, still down 14, but with good field position. 

The offense had to stay on the sideline, though. 

"I just didn't take care of the ball," said Kaelin Clay, who fumbled the punt back to the Saints. "I just didn't get the job done."

A week after Clay and Carolina's special teams left New Jersey on a high, they hit their lowest point of the season. Clay's fumble was the second of two huge errors made by the unit. 

The first was in the second quarter when the Panthers set up to punt from their 31. That's when Michael Palardy inexplicably dropped the ball. 

"I tried to get it in my hand and get a good grip, and as I went to go drop it and extend my arm out, it just kind of slipped out of my fingertips," Palardy said. 

The Panthers' punter, who had been rock solid most of the season, recovered his fumble and attempted a throw to safety Colin Jones that fell incomplete. But could Palardy have tried a rugby-style kick instead of morphing into an emergency quarterback? 

"I wasn't really thinking about that," he said. "I kind of saw some people in my face and saw a couple guys open, so I figured I'd give it a shot to throw it and at least get a completion out of it." 

But even if it had been completed, the Panthers would have been called for an ineligible man downfield. 

"It was one of those accidents. They happen," Palardy said. "Sometimes you can't control it. It's part of football, and you've got to move on." 


6) Injury Updates

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Maybe it's because most of the past week's injury news focused on guys who play offense, but many Panthers fans were confused when they saw linebacker Thomas Davis standing on the sideline while rotating with David Mayo.

"That was the plan coming in that we were going to play Thomas limited and try to get him through the game, which we did," Rivera said of Davis, who strained a hamstring against the Jets.

"Same thing with (linebacker Shaq Thompson). Shaq tweaked that foot again, but he came back in and finished up for us so we should be all right going forward."

Thompson, who exited for a few plays late in the first half, said "I'll be good" before walking out in a protective boot. Center Tyler Larsen and running back Jonathan Stewart also appeared to re-tweak or suffer foot/ankle injuries.

Meanwhile, the Panthers didn't take any chances on the Superdome's turf with tight end Greg Olsen.

"Obviously I suffered a bit of a sting last week on that turf and just thought it'd be better to not repeat that again this week," said Olsen, who was inactive. "So three home games, back on grass, another week to get healthier. We just thought it was in our best interest long-term for the rest of the season.

"From the beginning when I had this injury, the doctors said the past people who had this, they tend to be a little tricky and they tend to come and go. So we're just continuing to progress. The second half of the week (I was) feeling much better. So hopefully after another good week next week, like I said, coming back, playing on some grass, get off this turf for a little while, hopefully, I'll be good to go."

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