If Steve Wilks has coached his last game for the Panthers, he can walk away knowing his players haven’t let him down.
Eddy Pineiro kicked a 42-yard field goal as time expired, and Carolina closed out its season with an opportunistic 10-7 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
«The guys showed up today,» said Wilks, who went 6-6 as interim coach after the firing of Matt Rhule. «We’ve dealt with so much adversity throughout the year, and for those guys to turn the bandwagon once again and find a way to come together and win the football game is extremely impressive.»
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The Saints finished with large statistical advantages, outscoring Carolina by 304 yards to 203, but the game was kept close to the end due to New Orleans’ inability to score on four possessions inside the Panthers’ 40-yard line.
«We should have taken the brake off somebody and we didn’t,» Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said after New Orleans snapped its three-game winning streak. «Not ending the way we wanted it to end is going to be annoying for a while.»
The Saints (7-10) were in position to win when safety Daniel Sorensen picked off Sam Darnold near midfield and returned him to the Carolina 35-yard line with 1:36 to play. But New Orleans couldn’t move the ball on three plays and Wil Lutz missed a 55-yard field goal attempt, his second miss of the game.
Darnold moved Carolina (7-10) into field goal range in the final minute with a first down, followed by just his fifth completion of the game: a 21-yard pass to former LSU wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr.
Darnold went 5 of 15 for 43 yards and was intercepted twice, winning despite having a 2.8 quarterback rating. But the Panthers rushed for 171 yards, led by Chuba Hubbard’s 69 yards on 21 carries.
«It wasn’t pretty, but we got it done in the end and that’s what matters,» Darnold said. «I’m really proud of our resilience.»
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Carolina scored their only TD on a Darnold fumble that was recovered in the end zone by Panthers lineman Michael Jordan.
New Orleans’ Andy Dalton completed 15 of 25 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown to Chris Olave. Alvin Kamara rushed for 107 yards.
The Saints took a 7-0 lead on Olave’s 25-yard touchdown reception on the first drive of the game, but New Orleans blew three scoring opportunities in the first half.
«The way we started this game, it’s exactly how you want to start it,» Dalton said. «We also had chances at other points in the game, and we didn’t take them, we didn’t make the play when we needed to… The score should have been very different.»
Lutz missed a 44-yard field goal attempt. Kamara’s run was halted on fourth-and-1. And after Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu intercepted Darnold near the goal line, New Orleans returned it when Olave fumbled inside the Carolina 25-yard line. .
The Panthers, who had been outscored 234 yards to 60 in the first half, opened the second with a 14-play, 82-yard drive to tie it at 7 on Jordan’s recovery.
Under first-year coach Dennis Allen, the Saints finished a season with a 10th loss column for the first time since 2005, the year before his predecessor, Sean Payton, was hired. (The Saints had five 7-9 seasons between 2007 and 2016.)
«We’re going to evaluate everything,» Allen said. «Nobody makes any decision about anything 30 minutes after we left the field.»
Panthers running back D’Onta Foreman and Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport were each ejected in the third quarter for throwing punches after the whistle, moments after Davenport sacked Foreman for no gain. Foreman had 12 carries for 67 yards. Davenport participated with three tackles.
Panthers: Marquis Haynes appeared to strain his ankle in the first half. Left tackle Brady Christensen was taken to the locker room on a cart in the first half.
Saints: Rookie offensive tackle Trevor Penning, making his first career start, limped off with an apparent leg injury with 1:33 to go.
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Panthers: Enter the offseason with uncertainty about who will coach in 2023 and a decision to make about whether to keep Darnold at QB.
Saints: Head into Allen’s first full offseason with six offensive and defensive starters, as well as several regulars across all three units, entering free agency. The future of the club in QB is also uncertain.