CHARLOTTE -- Despite holding leading the game through three quarters, the Panthers lost their sixth straight game, falling to the Saints 12-9 at Bank of America Stadium on Monday Night Football.
With Carolina clinging to a 7-6 lead since halftime, the Saints seized control early in the fourth with a 16-yard rush from running back Alvin Kamara into the endzone. The Saints elected to go for two, but rookie cornerback Donte Jackson picked off quarterback Drew Brees and exploded into the Panthers endzone, cutting the score to 12-9.
An offensive holding call and a sack on quarterback Cam Newton - New Orleans' fourth of the night - spoiled Carolina's drive, giving Brees and the Saints the ball back with 8:51 remaining. With 1:51 left, cornerback James Bradberry forced a fumble by Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis after his attempt to score on a four-yard rush.
Carolina's offense gained possession with no timeouts, but couldn't score as time ran out.
Following a low scoring first half, neither team could find their footing in the third quarter. A roughing the kicker penalty kept New Orleans' second drive alive, but the Panthers defense forced a three-and-out. The offense began chipping away from their own 15, gaining 35 yards, until DJ Moore fumbled after a 22-yard rush.
New Orleans offense would take over on its 16 and, following a Carolina sack, benefitted from a defensive pass interference on second-and-18 to build steam near the end of the quarter to set up the finish.
After uneventful drives for each team to start the game, the Panthers brought the heat on their second series. On third-and-10, a 17-yard Newton completion to wideout Curtis Samuel netted an extra 15 yards after Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport was called for roughing the passer.
Three plays later, on fourth-and-2 from midfield, McCaffrey surprised the Saints - and Panthers fans - with a fake run before lofting a pass to tight end Chris Manhertz for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Manhertz was wide open at the Saints 37 and coasted in for his first career touchdown on McCaffrey's first pass as a pro.
New Orleans quickly drove into Carolina territory following a 50-yard kickoff return by Kamara and a 22-yard Mark Ingram rush. The Panthers' defense would respond, holding the Saints before linebacker Luke Kuechly batted down a Brees pass on third down. The drive still ended with points after kicker Wil Lutz nailed a 46-yarder near the end of the first quarter.
A crucial tackle by linebacker Thomas Davis on third-and-6 would hold the marching Saints to another Lutz field goal - this time from 24 yards out - to begin the second quarter. The teams traded empty possessions for much of the quarter before an eventful final two minutes. Brees looked to strike on a deep pass to tight end Dan Arnold, but a Davis deflection allowed Bradberry to earn his first interception of the season.
With 18 seconds remaining, the Panthers found themselves on the New Orleans 13, but cornerback Eli Apple snatched a Newton pass intended for wideout Devin Funchess out of the air to give the Saints momentum heading into halftime.
Carolina's final regular season game at Bank of America Stadium will take place next week when Atlanta comes to town. In the teams' first meeting, the Falcons topped the Panthers 31-24 in Week 2.