NEW ORLEANS — Music blared so loudly from the portable speakers inside the Carolina Panthers‘ locker room Sunday night that you could barely hear running back Jonathan Stewart talk.Quote_84910_1449021257880
But through the noise, Stewart’s message, the message of the team, was clear.
All the mistakes, dropped touchdown passes and overall sloppy play in the 41-38 victory over the New Orleans Saints need to be corrected, but that wasn’t going to spoil the accomplishment of staying undefeated.
That wasn’t going to overshadow wrapping up a third straight NFC South title.
“We’ve already moved on,” Stewart said of all the mistakes. “We’re past that. Let’s talk about relevant questions.”
When posed with a follow-up “but,” Stewart interrupted.
“Ain’t no but,” he said. “We’re trying to go 13-0 now.”
The Panthers (12-0) set an NFC record with their 16th consecutive regular-season victory. They did it by showing the resiliency that allowed them to begin the streak last season, also at the Superdome, after going two months without a victory.
Newton could have had two more touchdowns if wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. hadn’t dropped two balls while wide open behind the secondary.
“In this game, bad plays are going to happen but what we do as a team to bounce back from them defines us,” Cotchery said. “Things are going to happen out there on the field, just like life, and it’s how you respond.
“All the guys here are enjoying the journey.”
Tight end Greg Olsen said the win showed Carolina can “win ugly.”
“For every team that looks back on a special season or a championship season, you look back, ‘Hey, that game could have gone against us. That game could have not gone our way,'” he said.
“But good teams make their own luck. Good teams respond. We couldn’t have had more negative, critical errors go against us and to still score 41 points and win the game, to me it says a lot about the guys we have.”
The league’s second-ranked defense had uncharacteristic breakdowns, giving up its most points since a 31-13 loss to Minnesota on Nov. 30, 2014.
That, by the way, was the last time Carolina lost a regular-season game.
The Panthers appeared headed for a loss in this one against the Saints. They trailed at the half, 16-13, for the first time since Week 5 against Seattle because of three turnovers and a blocked extra point returned for two points.
It didn’t look good when running back Mark Ingram ran through missed tackles for a 9-yard touchdown, giving New Orleans a a 38-34 lead with 5:27 remaining.
The situation was dire with 2:09 remaining, and the Panthers were faced with fourth-and-4 from the Saints’ 46.
That’s when Newton broke containment to the left side and started to run, then pulled up and lofted a high, wobbly pass toward Olsen, who caught it with only his fingertips between the ball and the turf.
And probably a loss.
“Granted, we didn’t make it easy on ourselves,” Olsen said.
Not easy as in eight penalties for 87 yards. Not easy as in the dropped potential touchdowns by Ginn, who also caught two touchdown passes.
Not easy as in giving up a 31-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
But at no point did anyone in a Carolina uniform think about losing. The word “losing” seems to have been eliminated from their vocabulary.
“We’ve got to learn from this,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “We have to grow. We’ve got to understand that we have to take care of business.”
Resiliency was the word spoken throughout the locker room after this one. It was used most often when talking about Newton, who took more hard hits than in any game all season.
He took a particularly hard hit to his neck on the winning drive but kept on running and throwing the remainder of the drive.
“It’s a physical sport,” Newton said. “I mean, it’s not ballet.”
Ballet is a highly technical form of dance. It’s a form of art.
This was anything but.
But the Panthers weren’t focused on that. They’ll look at correcting their mistakes Monday, foregoing the typical day off after a win to study film and begin preparation for Atlanta.
For now, how they won wasn’t as important as the fact they found a way to win — again.
“A huge lift off our shoulders of finally, man, finally being on the winning end of one of these things,” cornerback Josh Norman said of the high-scoring game. “We’ve been on the losing end of these so much [in past years].
“I can’t say enough about this team, the resiliency we have. Blessings have showered down on us even when we don’t deserve it.”
Here’s moment captured in the locker room by the team’s official website:
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) December 7, 2015
Richardson was coaxed into doing the Atlanta-based dance by quarterback Cam Newton, who popularized the dab in the NFL last month when he did it following a second-half touchdown against Tennessee.
What better time for the 79-year-old founder of the team to do his first dab than after the Panthers won the NFC South title for the third straight year?