Defense sets tone in rematch with Saints


CHARLOTTE – Having played the New Orleans Saints just two weeks ago seemed to benefit the Panthers' defense in the rematch on Sunday.

"It was a great defensive effort as a team," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said.

During the first meeting in Week 14, Carolina allowed a season-high 31 points as quarterback Drew Brees completed 30-of-42 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns.

"As a defense, we never played like that all year," safety Mike Mitchell said. "We tried to do too much. We got out of what we do for one game, and that's why they put up 31 points. We got back to playing our style – being aggressive, being physical, clamping everything."

As a result, the Panthers allowed just 13 points in the rematch.

"Thirteen points," Mitchell said. "That is what we do."

One of the primary keys to success was a rejuvenated pass rush. Brees was sacked six times, and defensive end Greg Hardy led the charge with three.

"Any time you play a team twice in a couple weeks, you get a chance to go back and look at things we did well, things we didn't do well," McDermott said. "I think our defensive line had a better feel for what we were going to see on Sunday.

"They did an outstanding job, and Greg was the leader of that group. Just a great job on his part, and we got some great push to help him out as well."

ONE OF A KIND: After pouring praise on linebacker Luke Kuechly for his remarkable 26-tackle performance against the Saints and proclaiming him the best defensive player in the league, McDermott was asked to recall when he knew Kuechly was going to be a special player.

He remembered a team meal during Kuechly's rookie season.

"The thing that sticks out is not really something on the field. It's something I observed off the field," McDermott said. "He came in as a rookie to a (linebacker) room filled with veterans. I observed him in the dining hall one day, and he got up and before he walked away from the table he said, 'Can I get anybody anything to drink?'"

"You don't find that. It's a small thing. But you don't find that around society today. He's just a class act through and through. He's a joy to coach."

And he's just as impressive on the field.

"Yesterday' performance was as good as they come," McDermott said. "What else can you say about the young man?"

OFFENSE WEATHERS STORM: Going 0-for-9 on third down isn't typically a formula for success.

"It was frustrating for everybody," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "Those are hard games to be able to keep yourself composed – as an individual and as an offense."

But the Carolina offense remained composed. And it turns out they didn't need a single third down conversion to beat the Saints.

"It just goes to show you – you just keep playing," Shula said.

With no timeouts at his disposal, quarterback Cam Newton engineered the last-minute, 65-yard comeback drive in five plays and 32 seconds.

The first play of the series got it all started. Newton hung in the pocket and waited for wide receiver Ted Ginn to come open across the middle. Without even stepping into the throw and with a hand in his face, Newton fired a laser to Ginn, who made the catch and sprinted out of bounds for a 37-yard gain.

"He got hit in the face and was almost throwing that thing with his eyes closed," Shula said. "(That throw) ranked up there pretty high."

It wasn't a pretty stat sheet at game's end, but behind Newton's arm the offense did enough to get a victory.

"He's been my most favorite guy I've ever coached," Shula said of Newton. "He brings energy to you as a coach. He's a guy that is going to continue to get better and better as long you push him and he pushes himself. He learns from his mistakes. And you can have a lot of fun along the way doing it.

"He loves winning and he doesn't care how we win."

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