What it means: The gap in competitive balance between the top and bottom of the NFC South has narrowed. The gap in the standings has not. As they’ve been doing most of the season, the Panthers kept things very close. They played a New Orleans team that’s been to the playoffs the last two seasons very tightly. But, ultimately, Drew Brees and the Saints rallied to score (on a touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas) with 50 seconds remaining. That puts the Saints at 4-1 and, depending on how Tampa Bay does in its later game at San Francisco, no worse than a share of first place in the division. The Panthers are much improved and there’s little doubt they’ll pull of some upsets later in the year. But the bottom line is Carolina is 1-4.
Weirdest scene of the day: John Kasay in a Saints’ uniform. Yes, this was the fifth game Kasay has played for the Saints. But seeing him go against the Panthers in Bank of America Stadium seemed very odd. Kasay joined the Panthers when they were an expansion team in 1995 and was with them until he was released as the lockout came to an end.
Weirdest call of the day: A timeout by the Panthers with two seconds left in the first half as the Saints were scrambling to get on the field to kick a field goal. It appeared the clock would have run out before New Orleans could get a kick off. But the timeout allowed the Saints to get set and Kasay made the field goal to give New Orleans a 20-13 halftime lead.
Unconventional wisdom: Who says the option can’t work in the NFL? It can when Carolina’s Cam Newton is running it. He pitched to DeAngelo Williams out of the option for a 69-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Newton also kept the ball on an option play for a crucial first down early in the fourth quarter.
Keeping his cool: Carolina receiver Steve Smith got into a scuffle after catching a touchdown pass late in the first quarter. That’s not unusual for the feisty Smith. But before you go saying Smith was up to his old tricks, he wasn’t. Smith didn’t start this one. New Orleans safety Roman Harper started it when he hit Smith, after it was clear the receiver already had crossed the goal line.
Rising star: Much like safety Malcolm Jenkins did last year, New Orleans cornerback Patrick Robinson is emerging in his second season. Robinson picked off Newton early and had a nice return to set up a New Orleans touchdown early in the game.
What’s next: The Saints play the Buccaneers next Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The Panthers play the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome next Sunday.