1. Secondary limited big plays: The Carolina defensive backfield has come a long way since Saints quarterback Drew Brees relentlessly attacked over the top and threw for 465 yards against the Panthers in Week 6.
In the rematch at Bank of America Stadium, the Saints were denied those big chunk plays through the air. Brees' longest completion went for 22 yards, and New Orleans averaged 5.6 yards per pass play compared to 9.2 in the first meeting.
"It hurts when you beat yourself and it results in points or a big gain. That's what we had to go through, we had to go through some growing pains," said safety Kurt Coleman, who intercepted Brees to set up a touchdown in the second quarter. "But things are starting to click. We've been playing some really good football on the back end. We're playing as one. Our chemistry is right, and we understand where we're supposed to be."
Rookie starting cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley aren't as susceptible as they once were, and opposing offenses are being made aware.
"It's great to see those guys grow day in and day out," Coleman said. "When things click, you see the game in a whole new light and can play a lot faster."
2. Benjamin bounced back: Last week against the Chiefs, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin walked off the field in frustration after fumbling late and setting up Kansas City's game-winning field goal.
On Thursday, Benjamin came through in the clutch.
On third-and-10 with 2:39 remaining, Benjamin went up over two defenders to make an 18-yard catch – a grab that allowed Carolina to work the clock so New Orleans had little time to pull off a comeback.
"It was very big, especially with that happened last week," Benjamin said. "Throw and catch, and I got it. It felt good."
3. Palardy passed first test: Punter Michael Palardy's first NFL game was a success, and the Panthers needed it.
The replacement for veteran Andy Lee, who was put on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, punted six times with a 46.7-yard average and a net of 35.7.
His 53- and 52-yard punts in the fourth quarter were particularly impressive considering the pressure he was under as the Saints were threatening.
"I know that those punts, switching field position, were a big part of the game," Palardy said. "I knew my job and what I had to do. I had to go execute. That's the most important thing – no matter what situation is presented, you have to go do your job and do it to the best of your ability."
4. Run game facing obstacles: The Panthers are committed to running the football, but injuries along the offensive line have made it challenging.
Running back Jonathan Stewart has rushed 46 times for 112 yards (2.4-yard per carry average) over the last three games.
"Would I like to see it consistent? Most certainly, and that's the thing we've got to work on," Rivera said. "Again, we're mixing and moving people around. We have different parts of our offense out there that are a combination of guys, but the guys that we're counting on – they've got to continue to step up and they've got to play bigger. That's just the way it is."
5. Pass rush powering defense:With three more sacks against the Saints, the Panthers now have a league-leading 30 through 10 games. Eighteen of them have come in the last four games.
Rivera offered his thoughts on why thinks are clicking up front for the defense.
"I think the young secondary playing better has helped. Some guys have stepped up and played better as far as that group of defensive linemen," Rivera said. "We're getting exceptional push from the inside, which has been really helping the ends. That's where most of the sacks have come from. Mario (Addison) has really done a nice job, but with the foot (injury) we'll see how he is come Monday. Charles Johnson has just been solid all year. Kony (Ealy) has stepped it up. That's what we need to have.
"The interior push has been huge. We've seen KK (Short) and Star (Lotulelei) both have big days, and I think that's part of what's been happening. I think also, to be quite honest, one of the things that's helped (defensive coordinator) Sean McDermott in terms of play calling is to have consistency out there, where he can feel confident that he can pull from different areas of our defense."
View the top photos of Panthers vs. Saints by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.