CHARLOTTE – It ended with a sixth consecutive loss, but Monday night's game against the NFC-leading Saints was arguably Carolina's best showing on defense all season.
Especially considering the quality of the opposition and the challenge the secondary was faced with.
Cornerbacks Donte Jackson and James Bradberry contributed timely takeaways, and safety Eric Reid was around the ball all night.
Let's start with the rookie Jackson, who made a play he'll never forget against the Hall of Fame quarterback he grew up watching.
The Saints were looking to turn a five-point lead into a seven-point lead early in the fourth quarter by going for two. Quarterback Drew Brees rolled right and tried to force a pass to wide receiver Michael Thomas, but Jackson picked it off and raced the entire length of the field with his blazing speed for two points the other way.
"Donte's play was a play with great vision. He put himself in good position and was able to step in (front)," head coach Ron Rivera said.
The second-round pick also broke up a pass down the seam to tight end Benjamin Watson and shut down a screen pass to Thomas for a 3-yard loss.
"I really appreciate the way he competes and the way he tries to make things happen," Rivera said. "I think the young man has a bright future in this league."
Rivera also has high hopes for Bradberry, another former second-round pick. Bradberry was at his best Monday night, intercepting his first pass of the season off a deflection and forcing a fumble through the end zone that gave Carolina one last chance at a comeback.
He also helped limit Thomas – the NFC's fourth-leading receiver – to just seven catches for 49 yards. His longest reception went for 12 yards.
"I was very happy for James to see him play as well as he did. He had a rough stretch a couple weeks ago, but you look at what we ask him to do, and that's to mirror a team's number one receiver, and I thought he did an admirable job," Rivera said. "It was fun to see, good to see him get a couple big plays that really helped us with the interception and knocking the ball loose on the goal line."
Reid provided a physical presence in the back end from start to finish.
The best of his seven tackles came against slippery running back Alvin Kamara in space with the end zone in his sights. The textbook stop saved a touchdown and ultimately forced New Orleans to settle for a field goal.
Reid also showed his impressive range and cover skills to break up a pass for Thomas and get the defense off the field on third down.
"Eric Reid has played very well since he's been here," Rivera said. "He did a heck of a job. He's really gotten a good feel for what we do."
Reid is only under contract through the 2018 season. Rivera would like to see his career continue beyond that in Carolina.
"Yes. He's done a great job," Rivera said. "He fits very well."