CHARLOTTE – Before the season began, everyone assumed the two games against the Saints in Week 15 and 17 would be meaningful.
Both teams made the playoffs in 2017 and were fully prepared for a collision course with the way things started for both in 2018.
But the Panthers tailed off dramatically, losing seven consecutive games, the longest skid of head coach Ron Rivera's tenure.
"You look at the schedule and go, 'OK, this is what you're playing for and working towards,'" Rivera said Friday. "Not being there is tough."
Sunday's game at New Orleans will put an end to Carolina's season, a season that looked so promising after a 6-2 start.
"I truly am disappointed. The hard part about it too, losing is truly disappointing, but sometimes you feel like you let some people down. That's probably one of the things I've struggled with," Rivera said. "I think we're better than our record says, but at the end of the day you are what your record says you are. That's been the hard pill for me to swallow."
And those one-score losses – the Panthers have had five of them during this slide – are difficult to accept.
"We had some opportunities, we had some chances. Games were within our grasp," Rivera said. "Unfortunately, we didn't do it."
As for the future, it starts with this final game, which will serve as an opportunity for Rivera to see what some young players can do with extended snaps.
And then it's full steam ahead for 2019.
"I feel pretty good. My intention, everything I've been doing is working towards the future and we'll go from there," Rivera said. "My conversations with the owner have been all positive. That's why I am just going forward."