Panthers' collision course with Saints now may be a game of survival

DETROIT -- Wide receiver Jarius Wright already was doing the math on what it would take for the Carolina Panthers to catch the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.

"Hopefully, Philly can help us out today," Wright said after Sunday's 20-19 loss at Detroit dropped the Panthers to 6-4.

Not so much.

While Wright and the Panthers were dissecting a failed two-point conversion with 1 minute, 7 seconds remaining and falling to 1-4 on the road, the Saints were dissecting the defending Super Bowl champions 48-7 to improve to 9-1.

What three weeks ago seemed like a collision course for the division title between the Panthers and Saints with two games against each other over the final three weeks now seems like a fight for survival for Carolina.

The Saints have won nine straight. They arguably are the best team in the NFL.

Instead of figuring out how to catch the Saints, the Panthers better figure out how to stop the Saints. If you can't stop Detroit's Matthew Stafford and the Lions, how can you expect to stop Drew Brees, the hottest quarterback on the planet outside of Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes?

And the Panthers need to figure out how to win on the road with two of their next three and three of the next six away from Bank of America Stadium.

As Wright admitted, you can't be a good team if you can't consistently win on the road.

"I always heard you win them all at home and steal as many as you can on the road," he said. "But we've got to have some on the road."

Carolina's only road victory was at Philadelphia, and that came with a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback from a 17-0 deficit. The Panthers are a different team away from home, where they are 5-0 this season with a home game against Seattle (5-5) next to stop the bleeding.

Ultimately, the Panthers have to win on the road. And to do that they have to begin playing like a top-10 defense that outside linebacker Thomas Davis said they could be before the season.

Carolina's defense gave up five touchdown passes to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the Thursday night loss. On Sunday, the Panthers missed tackles and gave up untimely big plays to a Detroit team that had lost three straight.

It was so bad that on one play cornerback Donte Jackson and linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has more tackles than any other player since 2012, missed tackles.

"It really boils down to us not executing," Davis said. "Once we can put a complete game together away from home, we're going to start winning those games."

The Panthers have to improve drastically on defense to hang with the Saints, who beat them three times last season by scores of 34-13, 31-21 and 31-26 in the playoffs.

Their season may depend on it.

"We've just got to stay together," Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short said. "Motivate each other, keep it going and do our job."

Kuechly admitted the Panthers aren't in "the best position."

"But we understand at the end of the year you can put yourself in a place where you can be in the playoffs," he said. "We still have that in front of us. It's just going to be a little more difficult. We understand that. We put ourselves in that position."