By Ted Fleming
When the season started it was thought the New Orleans Saints were still good enough to make the playoffs despite the suspensions levied by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for what is now known as Bounty Gate. The Carolina Panthers were also thought to be good enough to make the postseason, so much so one player took out a full page ad promising a Super Bowl appearance.
That was then and this is now.
This Sunday the Saints and Panthers will close out the regular season with no place to go after it is over except home, or the nearest golf course. Both squads want to go out on a winning note only there could be something that is still lingering from last season that could play a part in the afternoon’s festivities.
There is a natural rivalry between the teams simply because they play the same division, but now there is truly bad blood between them after the investigation into the bounty program revealed that quarterback Cam Newton was a target in the 2011 season finale.
There was a lot of chatter that the Panthers would try to extract some revenge when they met up earlier this season and as it turned out, beating the Saints rather than beating up the Saints became a sort of rallying cry. That is what they did coming away with a 35-27 victory, however, that doesn’t mean they have forgotten. In fact, they had a kind of reminder this past Sunday when tackle Tommy Kelly came out after the game and said his Raiders were looking to take out Newton.
It’s a kind of tit for tat football – you take out our guy and we’ll take out yours. Oakland’s QB Carson Palmer was clobbered early in the game and could not return so Newton had a bull’s eye on his back the rest of the afternoon. As if they didn’t need reminding, the Raiders might have helped open up an old wound with the Saints.
With nothing on the line except pride, Sunday’s game could be an interesting watch and there could be one very interested party who will be watching e very minute of it, Roger Goodell. The commissioner is still a law and order guy and he might still be harboring some hurt feelings after former league boss Paul Tagliabue overturned his player suspensions in the appeals process.
After a few days off for the holiday, the Panthers return to work on Wednesday to prepare for their trip to New Orleans this weekend and, possible retribution aside, they have a reason to be on top of their game if for nothing else, to keep Saints quarterback Drew Brees from hitting the record book.
Brees needs just 219 passing yards to become the first quarterback in NFL history to log back-to-back 5,000 yard seasons. The Panthers have the league’s 13th best overall defense and are eighth against the pass allowing 212.7. If statistics bear out, Brees does not get the record and that could be their way of inflicting a kind of pain not associated with the physical.
What could be the ultimate payback would be keeping Brees from setting a new standard then finding out that the Lions’ Matthew Stafford had thrown for at least 305 to beat him to it. Both quarterbacks have a shot at the record.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.