Division rivals always play each other tough. No matter the records, no matter on whose turf they’re playing, one should never expect a matchup between division rivals to be easy for either team. They know each other too well. Each team wants it too bad. In essence, division rivalry games make for the very best football games.
On Sunday, when the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers faced off in Charlotte, one thing became overwhelmingly clear; The Saints and Panthers aren’t just your average rivals. These guys hate each other…bitterly. They “wouldn’t piss on Steve Smith to put a fire out” hate each other. They “would poke a hole in the last life raft if they saw Jimmy Graham drowning” hate each other. There is no love lost…and it makes for some damn good football!
When the Saints took the early 10-0 lead, I knew I’d be a fool to get excited. After all, the Panthers’ offense has some weapons and the Saints’ defense is well, the Saints’ defense. The potential threat for big plays that would make me want to stab my eyes out was at about a code orange. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly stunned when I watched Panthers QB Cam Newton hit veteran wide receiver Steve Smith for a big pass that turned into a touchdown. What did surprise me was what happened moments later. Roman Harper came flying from out of nowhere to tackle Steve Smith in the end zone in what was clearly an act of utter frustration or plain old blinding rage. Then I watched, mouth wide open, as the entire Panthers offense seemed to surround Malcolm Jenkins (who had nothing to do with anything) in some sort of “West Side Story”-esque street fight. It wasn’t until then that it really hit me that this was going to be a long, long Sunday afternoon.
From that point on, it was a series of bizarro plays, calls and penalties that left my head spinning.
*Olindo Mare got an extra point blocked in a play that’s most shocking detail was that Olindo Mare still starts for a team.
*The Panthers apparently decided at the end of the first half that it wouldn’t be fair not to let the Saints squeeze in a field goal try, so they called a time out instead of letting the clock run out on a Saints field goal attempt.
*The refs decided pushing Jimmy Graham down by the face doesn’t warrant an unnecessary roughness call, regardless of how unnecessarily rough that particular action happens to be.
*The referees at some point decided that even tickling Cam Newton was precisely enough to warrant a roughing the passer call.
*Jeremy Shockey decided the only team he hated more than the Giants, the first team he won a Super Bowl ring with, was the Saints, the second team he won a Super Bowl ring with.
*Mark Ingram got penalized for taunting, because apparently any form of celebration is taunting (*cough* if you wear black and gold *cough).
While all this nonsense was happening, Saints and Panthers players alike were hitting each other after plays were over, barking in each other’s faces, and mentally stabbing each other in the spleen. You could just feel the venom between them. It was at the heart of several stupid penalties for both sides.
If all that wasn’t enough, then came the 4th quarter. Cam Newton orchestrated a pretty impressive drive to put his team ahead. But the rookie phenom made one very unfortunate mistake…well, unfortunate for him. He left too much time on the clock. Cammie Cam forgot that he was playing against Drew Brees, one of the best in the league at orchestrating 4th quarter comebacks. You give him 7 minutes, you’re giving him all the time he needs to win a game and eat just enough clock to back you up against a wall. And that’s exactly what he did.
Drew Brees put on a fourth quarter clinic for the rookie Cam, storming the field with what could best be described as a “watch and learn” type of drive. Drew dialed up big time plays to Jimmy Graham and the ever clutch Marques Colston but it was P.T. Bruiser who went in for the go-ahead touchdown. The Saints took the lead and despite an extremely tense :50 seconds of play for the Panthers offense, never relinquished it.
Beyond getting out of Carolina with a win and the lead of the division, there were several key takeaways from this game.
*The Saints’ defense terrifies me. The Panthers are not a terrible team, despite their record, but there is no excuse for some of the sloppiness we saw on Sunday and what we’ve been seeing all season long. If it’s not a missed tackle or a blown assignment, it’s a dumb penalty keeping a drive alive. We’re setting ourselves up for another Seahawks debacle if we don’t plug up those holes asap!
*I love Darren Sproles as much as the next Darren Sproles stalker, but I don’t necessarily need to see him on every play. Sean Payton found a new toy and it seems like he’s refusing to put it down. “We’ve got other toys to play with, Sean. If you don’t play with your other toys, you’ll hurt their feelings!”
*Cam Newton will make for some fun times in the NFC South. He’s obviously talented and once they put the right people around him, I’m certain he’ll strike fear in a few opponents.
*Jeremy Shockey needs to get a hold of himself and stop acting like a scorned ex-lover. You won your ring with us. We paid you handsomely during your time with the Saints. Whose fault is it that Jimmy Golden Graham beat you out of a job? That’s the way the cookie crumbles. Deal with it.
*From the way this game was covered, you would think the Panthers won. I think I saw one Saints highlight in the NFL Network recap. Let’s not forget Drew walked away from this game with better stats and you know, the win.
*I love everything about the Saints and Panthers hating each other. Physically hating just the Falcons gets boring. I’ve always pseudo hated the Panthers just based on principle but I’m all about kicking things up a notch and from the tension we witnessed Sunday, clearly they are too. So go eff yourselves, Cats. WHO DAT!