NEW ORLEANS – Countless times, Roman Harper sat on the Saints sideline at the Superdome and watched quarterback Drew Brees do his thing at the expense of opposing defenses.
Sunday, the Panthers' first-year safety got an even closer look at Brees. This time, Harper helped send Brees back to the Saints sideline earlier than the future Hall of Famer would have liked.
"It was a thing of beauty when you sit back and think about some of the things we did today," Harper said after the Panthers rolled to a 41-10 victory. "We flew around. We challenged their receivers. We confused Drew a little bit, which is so hard to do.
"We really played great today. For us to go out and dominate this team – we didn't let up the whole game – is something else."
Harper, who spent his first eight NFL seasons with New Orleans, said it was an emotional return for him, and he saw some surprising emotion out of a Superdome crowd not accustomed to seeing what transpired Sunday in recent years.
Harper couldn't recall the crowd ever booing as halftime hit, but that's exactly what happened after Carolina's defense held Brees to 55 passing yards in the first half and forced two turnovers to help the Panthers build a 24-3 lead that only grew in the second half.
"We outplayed them," said Harper, who had three of the Panthers' season-high 11 passes defensed. "You could see that in all aspects of the game today."
The domination began from the defense's first snap, when linebacker Luke Kuechly stuffed running back Mark Ingram – held to 43 yards after gaining 100 in the team's first meeting – for a 1-yard gain.
On the next play, Ingram caught a short pass but was stripped by cornerback Josh Norman, a fumble that defensive tackle Colin Cole pounced on. On the next defensive snap, with the Panthers up 10-0, rookie cornerback Bene Benwikere came up with a beautiful interception on a deep ball bound for speedster Joseph Morgan.
"Bene is a guy that prepares every week," Kuechly said. "Even when he was injured, he was watching tape as if he was going to be playing that week. That's something you like to see.
"That's a great way to start the game. That's a winning recipe."
In reality, the Panthers' winning formula began to take shape well before those tone-setting plays. According to defensive end Charles Johnson, the tenor was already established by the time Carolina arrived in New Orleans.
"Really why I think we played the way we did is because we had a hell-of-fire week of practice," Johnson said. "There was a lot of stuff that went on in practice that we got corrected. It was significant stuff that was eye-opening. We did it in practice and came out and won the game.
"I'd rather not talk about specifics, but you could feel the difference. People were dialed in today and focused."
The only downer about Sunday's game was that it was just one game. The Panthers' six-game losing streak is no more, but Sunday must be the start of a winning streak if the Panthers are to extend their season beyond the regular season.
The Panthers avoided a loss that would have sunk their season. Now the charge is to use it to save their season.
"I never really felt like we were out of it. We felt like if we took care of what we needed to do, which was win games, we still had a shot," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "Knowing how high-powered their offense is, knowing what they're capable of doing as far as putting up points, this was huge for this defense and for our confidence going forward."