NEW ORLEANS — There were things about this one that were different.
The result was oddly familiar.
A defense that kept the Panthers in a game most of Sunday despite a non-explosive and short-handed offense finally cracked late, and the Panthers lost 18-10 to the Saints.
Taysom Hill's touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara midway through the fourth quarter wasn't so much a dam bursting as a product of erosion, as the Saints were able to lean on the Panthers throughout the game.
After scoring on their first two possessions to take a 10-3 lead, the Panthers went through a five-possession cold-snap, in which they ran 16 plays for a total of 2 yards, as the intent by quarterback Sam Darnold was to be safe and avoid catastrophic plays.
He was largely efficient early, though he was sacked three times in the first half. One of those turned into a fumble, and the Saints got a field goal off the turnover, and the Panthers played a decidedly conservative game after that.
When they finally moved the ball in the late third quarter, the drive ended with new kicker Lirim Hajrullahu missing a 47-yard field goal.
(Previous kicker Zane Gonzalez had made 17 straight field goals prior to his pre-game injury in Buffalo two weeks ago. Hajrullahu had hit a 32-yard field goal earlier in the game.)
After that miss, Hill moved the Saints efficiently downfield, hitting his best offensive player for the 12-yard touchdown.
Darnold finished 17-of-26 for 132 yards with a late interception and a passer rating of 61.7. He was sacked seven times, behind the Panthers' 12th combination of starting offensive linemen in 16 games.
The offense finished with 178 total yards.
— This game was ultimately about which team's weakness was weakest.
The Saints were out there without their four best offensive linemen. Terron Armstead and Erik McCoy were inactive, Ryan Ramczyk's on the COVID-19 list, and Andrus Peat's on injured reserve.
So it's perhaps not a surprise the Panthers held the Saints to minus-4 rushing yards in the first half and 280 total yards.
Contrast that with the Panthers' secondary, and some statistical patterns make sense.
The Panthers had CJ Henderson active but he wasn't an active participant in the game, meaning their top five cornerbacks didn't play. Henderson was a late addition to the injury report on Friday with knee and shoulder issues, and he was listed as questionable.
They were out there with rookie Keith Taylor Jr. and journeyman Rashaan Melvin, with a lot of Myles Hartsfield at nickel, hardly where they anticipated being after investing so heavily in the secondary.
— Quarterback Cam Newton came in for one play in the second quarter and ran for a 5-yard gain. But that was the extent of his action.
View in-game photos from the Superdome during Carolina's Week 17 game at New Orleans.