Cam Newton is brought down to the ground and Saints Mark Ingram II Lambeau leaps into the crowd celebrating a playoff win in New Orleans.

Panthers were defeated 31-26 by New Orleans Saints for the third time this season, Sunday. After Newton was brought down on a sack on a fourth and 23 their season was over. But a controversial call is what led to the long yardage situation.

“I felt like we had a chance to score on that last drive and I felt like that was taken away from us,” head coach Ron Rivera said during the post game press conference.

Trailing 26-31 at the two minute warning the Saints offense was going for it at midfield. Panthers d-line brought the pressure and forced an interception caught by Mike Adams.

At their own 31 Newton threw a quick strike to Devin Funchess over the middle for a 19-yard gain. Two plays later Newton found Kaelin Clay for a 21-yard completion along the right sideline. Eventually, Panthers found themselves at the Saints 21-yard line on a second and 10. Newton, rushed by Saints Cam Jordan, rolled out and threw the ball to the sideline. Consequently, Newton was called for an intentional grounding.

“It would be nice to get an explanation. I didn’t get the explanation,” Rivera said. “My understanding is [the ball] went past the line of scrimmage and he was out of the pocket.”

Ask Newton and he says the call didn’t decide the outcome of the game.

“That game didn’t come down to that play. I understand that we could call it as it is but we could have played better as a team,” Newton said.

Without turning the ball over Newton completed 60 percent of his passed for 349 yards and two touchdowns. Doing his part, he also threw a pass to Clay that was right on the money in the first half but dropped in the end zone and the drive resulted in a missed field goal. He also threw what should have been a touchdown to Greg Olsen in the final quarter but Olsen couldn’t come down with it and the possession ended with a made field goal.

“We missed our chance and that’s a tough pill to swallow,” Rivera said of the wild card loss on his 56th birthday.

After being down 31-19 with less than five minutes left in the final quarter Panthers came back to give themselves a chance late in the game.

“This kind of epitomizes the season, we were close. We fought, did a lot of good things despite all the things going on. Our guys kept fighting and were very resilient,” Rivera said. “It all started from OTAs, mini camp, training camp. All the way through.”

The same could be said of Newton. Entering the season he was recovering from a surgery on his shoulder that caused pain throughout the season, however, Newton didn’t miss a game leading Panthers to an 11-5 record. On Sunday, Newton kept fighting and even after getting poked in the eye on a sack he battled to get back in the game and fight to the end for his teammates.

“This roster, I’d love to keep it my whole career but certain things just has to happen and I hate that I couldn’t do enough to get a win today for a lot of guys that I think so highly of,” Newton said. “This game brings men together and you have love bonds for the rest of your life so for me to take my last snaps for a couple players for this team that’s probably the hardest part about this.”

One move that is certainly going to happen this offseason is that Panthers will be getting a new owner with Jerry Richardson selling the team. As far as players in that locker room there’s one veteran who may have played their last NFL game if soon to be 38-year-old (birthday January 18) Julius Peppers decides to hang it up.

“It’s not how we wanted the season end for him and unfortunately for us we’ll miss having him around. He helped a lot of guys in this locker room get where they are and he’s done a great job for the city,” Kuechly said after the game in an emotional response about Peppers.

If it is the final game for the 16-year veteran who’s played nine seasons for the Panthers he was proud to have gone out with “Keep Pounding” nation.

“It was a great experience,” Peppers said after the game in the locker room. “It was a great decision to comeback home and play this year. I don’t have any regrets at all.

“I’m proud of these guys and I had a lot of fun this season.”

By Gino Terrell

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