There wasn't much good news for the Panthers in their final game of the season, as they ran into the red-hot New Orleans Saints and got eviscerated, 45-17.
The game was 17-17 at one point until Panther safety Sherrod Martin made the most obvious bad play of the game, letting Marques Colston get behind him with 15 seconds left in the first half and New Orleans on the Carolina 42. Colston scored, the Panthers went into halftime down 24-17 instead of tied and it got worse from there.
"That took the wind out of our sails," Panther coach Ron Rivera said.
The Panthers' offense then couldn't score a single point in the second half and the defense just kept getting worse. Drew Brees ended up with five TD passes before being taken out in the fourth quarter. The Saints never punted while he was in the game, scoring six TDs in Brees' eight possessions.
Carolina ended the season 6-10 and with some obvious gaping holes on defense. Brees can make anyone look bad, but too often this year the Panthers gave up too many points and big plays. They have a playoff-caliber offense already; the defense and the special teams need to catch up.
Still, Panther fans have to feel a lot different right now than one year ago, when the team was 2-14, the coaching and quarterback situations were uncertain and the Panthers were generally regarded as the worst team in the league. This is a team with a future -- if it can get its defense improved.