NEW ORLEANS, LA (Scott Fowler/Charlotte Observer) - Kyle Allen looked really good again Sunday.
Behind Allen’s dramatically better decision-making, the Panthers came nearly all the way back from deficits of 14-0 and 31-18 against New Orleans.
But it still wasn’t enough, as the Saints edged the Panthers, 34-31, on a last-play field goal in a thriller in the Superdome.
Said Allen afterward: “It’s incredibly frustrating. … It doesn’t matter how you play. At the end of the day, when they look back on the season, it’s going to be loss. There’s going to be no asterisk to it saying, ‘They almost won.’ ”
Carolina placekicker Joey Slye may lose his job permanently on Monday after missing two extra points and then a 28-yard field goal with 1:56 left that would have given the Panthers a 34-31 lead.
Slye also made field goals of 41 and 52 yards, but the five points he didn’t score Sunday were critical.
After Slye’s miss, New Orleans (9-2) then drove down the field for a 33-yard field goal from Wil Lutz on the last play of the game, giving the Panthers another heartbreaking loss.
Following the game, Allen put his arm around Slye’s shoulders as the two young players walked off the field. Said Allen of the conversation: “I told him I’ve been in the same exact spot he was — last week. I just told him we’re going to need you down the line. I threw four picks last week (in a 29-3 loss to Atlanta). I didn’t give us a chance to win the game at all. I told him, ‘Look man, it’s going to happen … people miss kicks. It’s not a big deal.”
The Panthers (5-6) were the beneficiary of a crucial pass-interference call on their final drive — it wasn’t originally flagged but was reversed after a challenge by Carolina head coach Ron Rivera, much to the chagrin of Saints fans who well remember last year’s playoffs.
But the Saints held the Panthers out of the end zone anyway, despite Carolina running three plays inside the New Orleans’ 5 on its last series. That forced Slye’s errant attempt, followed by a classic Drew Brees drive for a field-goal win at the final gun.
It was a shame to waste such a good performance by Allen. After a nasty four-game stretch in which Allen had thrown nine interceptions against only three touchdown passes, the Panthers’ undrafted quarterback looked resilient and unflappable, much like he did when he started out 4-0 in place of the injured Cam Newton earlier this season.
“He made good decisions,” Rivera said of Allen, who ended up going 23-of-36 for 256 yards, with three TDs and no interceptions.
The Panthers defense and special teams, though, faltered too often this time as Carolina dropped out of all realistic contention for an NFC playoff spot. Brees has rocked Carolina’s world since he arrived in New Orleans in 2006, and he did so again with three touchdown passes and the last drive to win.
Like Brees, Allen was often spectacular. After the Panthers fell behind 14-0 in the first 10 minutes, the game looked destined to be a rout. The Panthers didn’t have a first down and had only run three plays at that point.
But Allen found DJ Moore on a 51-yard TD bomb to close the gap, then converted on a 1-yard TD pass on the last play of the first half and to cap a 17-play drive. He led the Panthers to more points than they had scored the previous two games combined. Moore and running back Christian McCaffrey scored two TDs apiece to lead the comebacks.
Carolina finally caught the Saints at 31-all in the fourth quarter. New Orleans then went for a fourth-and-1 from its own 45, but Eric Reid made a huge stop to give Carolina the ball back with a chance to take the lead.
That never transpired, however, thanks to Slye’s miss, and the Panthers had lost for the fourth time in the past five games.
▪ There was some online chatter that New Orleans defensive end Cam Jordan should have been thrown out of the game for his punch after Allen had already been wrapped up for a sack in the second quarter. I thought the correct call was made, though — Jordan was penalized 15 yards but not ejected. He looked to me like he was attempting to punch the ball, not Allen. Silly, but not vicious.
▪ Panthers safety Tre Boston went helmet-to-helmet against former Carolina teammate Ted Ginn in the third quarter, drawing a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness. Ginn, an explosive player who has long had a problem with drops, later had two hands on what would be a 50-yard pass from Brees but dropped it. Boston later made a big play with a fourth-quarter pick of Brees.
▪ Gerald McCoy showed some quickness in the fourth quarter, catching an official’s flag on the fly. McCoy was particularly upset after the game about the loss, saying the Panthers were too good to be 5-6.
▪ Panthers safety Rashaan Gaulden made a really bad play in the first quarter, allowing himself to get pushed right into Moore as Moore was trying to field the ball on a punt return. Instead, Moore was flung backwards, the ball hit Gaulden’s foot, New Orleans recovered and the Saints ended up scoring a touchdown four plays later. Gaulden had a forgettable day -- he later was fortunate not to be ejected after shoving a Saints player following another Carolina kick return.
▪ New Orleans used up both of its challenges within the first 10 minutes of the first quarter, with coach Sean Payton trying to get an offensive pass interference call overturned (unsuccessfully) and then trying to get a Carolina fumble on a punt return reversed (successfully). That meant Payton had no challenges for the game’s final 50 minutes.
▪ The Panthers lost a couple of key linemen during the game, one on each side of the ball. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe (knee) and offensive guard Greg Van Roten (toe) were both hurt in the first half, helped off the field and missed the rest of the game.