CHARLOTTE – When the New Orleans Saints called their final timeout with 1:35 left, all the Carolina Panthers needed was a few more yards to be in good shape for a game-winning field goal.
Soon after, however, the Panthers needed something decidedly different.
"What we needed was a miracle," head coach John Fox said Monday, the day after the Panthers' 16-14 loss. "With the time remaining, there weren't a lot of options."
Coming out of the timeout – the last one left for either team – the Panthers had the ball at the New Orleans 36-yard line, needing literally a yard (but obviously wanting more than that) over the next two plays to get in range for kicker John Kasay.
Instead, running back DeAngelo Williams got tripped up for a 4-yard loss that changed everything, and the Panthers had no timeouts left to change gears.
Rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen lost 4 more yards on the next play on a sack, and by the time the Panthers got the snap off on fourth and 16 from the 44, just eight seconds remained.
By the time Clausen's pass reached wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett near the first-down stick but inbounds, just three seconds remained.
When the ball hit the ground, the clock no longer mattered anyway.
"I thought we had them against the ropes. We just needed to get a few more yards and kick it through and go home, but it didn't happen," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "On the sack, they brought more than we had. We only had five guys, and they brought six. The free guy comes and gets him.
"But the worse play was before that, when we ran it and lost yardage. That put us back."
After the timeless John Carney booted a go-ahead field goal for the Saints with 3:55 left, the Panthers were in no hurry to answer, and for good reason. They wanted to score but wanted to do so without leaving New Orleans any time to respond.
After Clausen's fourth-and-4 connection with wide receiver David Gettis for 16 yards at the Saints' 38 -- with 1:46 to go-- the Panthers had time on their side.
"It was a team effort," Gettis said of the clutch conversion. "Jimmy made a great throw, and I really just ran to it and made the catch.
"Kudos goes to him for rolling out and not panicking and giving a receiver downfield a chance to catch the ball. All I did was my job and caught the ball."
The pressure of the situation, however, seemed to affect the Panthers after Saints safety Usama Young dropped Williams for a loss as Williams tried to make a cutback run similar to the one that produced a 39-yard touchdown earlier in the half.
Williams was tackled around the 1:30 mark, but the Panthers' next snap didn't come until 51 seconds remained. Clausen was then sacked around the 45-second mark, but the next snap didn't come until eight seconds remained.
"We just didn't execute. You can chalk it up to everybody – coaches, players. We didn't get it done," Fox said. "Once we slipped into the mode of getting into field goal range and that didn't work out, that didn't help.
"There was a lot of stuff happening – guys not getting lined up right, not getting the call – and you've got a lot of young people out there and Steve Smith is out (with an ankle injury)."
The sheer volume of the Superdome played a part as well. The Panthers had difficulty getting plays in early in the game because of an issue with their headsets, but even with the headsets functioning on the final drive, Gross said the best the players could do in the huddle was read Clausen's lips.
"Yeah, it was definitely loud in there," Clausen said. "We were just trying to get the play in there the best we could, communicate it and get to the line of scrimmage and execute it."
The Panthers, however, weren't able to execute with the game on the line, and an encouraging effort ended with a discouraging outcome.
"We played hard against the defending champs, but that doesn't put a 'W' in the win column," Gettis said. "We've got to combine the effort with making plays. That's how we'll get our win."