RB Jonathan Stewart (Chris Graythen/Getty)
Jimmy Clausen and the Carolina Panthers took a lot of positive steps against the New Orleans Saints. But in the final minute, the Panthers were moving backwards, costing John Fox's crew a chance at a game-winning field goal and a huge upset.
The Panthers checked off most of the items on their pre-game to-do list. The offense generated some big scoring plays; Jonathan Stewart's 55-yard TD reception was the team's longest pass play of the season and DeAngelo Williams' 39-yard scoring jaunt was the team's longest run.
The D' did its job by forcing two takeaways. Sherrod Martin and Richard Marshall each forced fumbles that were recovered by James Anderson as the Panthers won the turnover battle, 2-1.
It was enough to put Carolina in position to win the game with under a minute to go. Trailing 16-14, the Panthers were at the Saints' 36-yard line, facing second-and-8 with 1:35 left to play. From there, it would have been a 53-yard field goal for John Kasay, who has a career-long for 54 yards and who has yet to miss this season.
Unfortunately, Kasay never got the chance.
Williams was hit for 4-yard loss on second down when the Panthers lined up in an obvious running formation. A play later, with the Panthers forced to pass back into field-goal range, Clausen endured his third sack and the game was all but over.
The bitter ending undermined a lot of things the Panthers did right. Clausen finished without a turnover against one of the NFL's most aggressive defenses; Williams averaged 6.6 yards on 13 carries; and David Gettis had biggest catch of his young career with a 17-yard grab on fourth-and-4 on the game's decisive drive.
But, as has been the case all year, it was nothing but silver lining wrapped around a storm cloud.
--The final score was close, but the Saints dominated statistically. New Orleans won time of possession by more than 16 minutes, earned a 27-10 edge in first downs and dominated in total net yards (383 to 251).
--Speaking of statistics, Anderson was a box-score superstar. He finished with 14 total tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
--Captain Munnerlyn was responsible for Carolina's only giveaway when he fumbled at the end of a 13-yard punt return early in the third quarter. Munnerlyn was shaken up on the play but didn't stay sidelined long.
--Steve Smith caught two passes for 11 yards before leaving in the second half with an ankle injury. He was carted off the field and did not return.
--Dante Rosario caught two passes for 17 yards. He now has multiple receptions in every game this season.
--Dwayne Jarrett, one week after being relegated to the inactive list, was among the 45 players active in New Orleans. But he played sparingly and was not targeted until the second to last play of the game, an incompletion that was doomed regardless.
--OT Jeff Otah (knee) and LB Jamar Williams (neck) missed the game with injuries.
What did Panthers fans say about Sunday's game? Find out in the message boards.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and also a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.