NEW ORLEANS Although a mere victory would normally suffice, the highly motivated and still humbled Carolina Panthers are coming to town Sunday to exact revenge.
Plain and simple.
The Panthers remember all too well that 34-13 beatdown administered by the Saints in Week 3 at Bank of America Stadium in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina.
Like it was yesterday.
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“We owe them,’’ Panthers defensive end Mario Addison proclaimed.
That victory back on Sept. 24 catapulted the previously winless Saints on a historic eight-game winning streak and dropped the previously undefeated Panthers into a temporary NFL abyss.
That was then.
On Sunday, beginning at 3:25 p.m. (FOX), the long-awaited rematch inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome pits the NFC South co-leaders in a game that could go a long way in determining the divisional champion and its eventual conference seeding.
A Saints win would give them sole possession of the division lead and complete a series sweep, ensuring them the all-important tiebreaker between the teams should they finish tied. A Panthers victory would give them the division lead and extend their winning streak to five games with four to play.
As expected, the Saints are a slight favorite at home, less than a field goal, according to most national oddsmakers. The health of both teams comes into play — quarterback Cam Newton (right thumb on throwing hand) and tight end Greg Olsen (right foot) for the 8-3 Panthers, starting cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore (ankle) and Ken Crawley (abdomen) and left tackle Terron Armstead (hamstring) for the 8-3 Saints.
The absence of Lattimore and Crawley was telling in Sunday’s 26-20 road loss to the NFC West-leading Rams at venerable Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Rams generated 415 yards, including 354 passing yards and two touchdown passes from vastly improved second-year quarterback Jared Goff.
This comes on the heels of the Washington Redskins and quarterback Kirk Cousins amassing 456 total yards against the Saints in Week 11, including 322 and three scores through the air.
The difference in the games is the Saints staged a historic comeback against the ‘Skins led by quarterback Drew Brees, who miraculously engineered a late rally from 15 points down in regulation en route to a 34-31 victory in overtime.
It is said defense wins championships. I contend the Saints will go as far as their defensive unit under coordinator Dennis Allen will take them this season.
The Saints are now 1-3 this season when their defense yields 400 or more yards of offense and 7-0 when they don’t. They surrendered 400-plus yards in season-opening losses at Minnesota (470) and at home against New England (555) in Weeks 1 and 2, the common thread being the Vikings and Patriots had capable veteran quarterbacks under center in Sam Bradford and Tom Brady.
That was not the Saints team against the Rams that we have grown to know and appreciate during its stunning eight-game winning streak.
They better rediscover THAT team ASAP.
Time is of the essence.
Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.