So Carolina has officially made it into the playoffs as the No.2 seed, which means they have earned their first playoff bye since the 1996 season. By the time Carolina enters the playoff fray in two weeks, on Sat., Jan.10 with an 8:15 p.m. game at Bank of America Stadium, the field of potential Super Bowl contenders will have been cut to 8.
Carolina will next play either Arizona, Atlanta or Minnesota depending on how the first round of the playoffs shake out. John Kasay's 42-yard field goal with 0:01 remaining was the difference in yet another heart-pounder for the Panthers.
Here are the 5 things I liked the most (and the 2 I liked least) about this win:
1. Steve Smith. He called that 39-yard catch just regular "chaos," and for No.89, I guess it is. But that 39-yarder on the last drive, which changed the game's momentum in a heartbeat, was a beauty.
2. DeAngelo Williams. He ran for 178 yards (although only 35 in the second half) to finish with the Panthers' first-ever 1,500-yard season. Then, in the locker room he unveiled a new website called www.NamesWeCanBelieveIn.com, which says that he and Jonathan Stewart will heretofore be known as "Double Trouble." Well, that's not that original, but DeAngelo gets some slack after this incredible 20-TD, shoulda-been-a-Pro-Bowler season
3. John Kasay. A 42-yarder to win it, after a false start penalty AND missing a 41-yarder earlier? The Panthers' ageless kicker really needed that one, and he got it.
4. Drew Brees. Normally, I list only Panther positives in this part of the blog. But it was a pleasure watching the New Orleans QB Sunday, in the same way it's a pleasure watching LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. What a player.
5. The first-round bye. This makes it easier for everybody wearing Panther blue. The Panthers will get healthier in the trenches, where they suddenly have several nagging injuries.
AND THE TWO I DISLIKED THE MOST...
1. 21 fourth-quarter points. I mean, c'mon, I know Brees is good, but that was ridiculous. The Saints scored on three straight drives in the fourth quarter as Carolina's pass defense looked non-existent (Brees finished with 386 yards).
2. Carolina getting off the gas. John Fox tried to bleed the clock for much of the second half after getting a 30-10 lead -- i.e., punting instead of letting Kasay try a 55-yard field goal indoors, which is well within his range. It almost bit him, but Smith and Kasay bailed the Panthers' coach out.