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Piniero kicks (another) game-winning FG for Panthers, with no time remaining at New Orleans

By David Rogers. NEW ORLEANS, La. — It was a nice homecoming for Louisiana native and LSU alum Terrance Marshall Jr., now a wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers.

With Carolina and New Orleans tied 7-7 and just 19 seconds remaining in regulation of the teams’ Week 18 finale, on 2nd-and-10, Panther quarterback Sam Darnold hit Marshall for a 21-yard passing gain across the middle, setting up a succesful 42-yard yard field goal by Eddie Piniero for a 10-7 Carolina win.

In what morphed as a defensive battle, New Orleans outgained Carolina in total net yards, by a significant margin, 304-203, but turnovers at critical times proved a difference maker. Carolina had three fumbles, but recovered all of them. New Orleans was less error-prone, but lost their only fumble of the day.

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Terrance Marshall, Jr. (88) had his team’s biggest pass reception on Jan. 8: the 21-yard catch and run was not only the longest of the day, but setup Eddie Piniero’s game winning field goal with no time remaining on the clock. Photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers

Technically, turnovers include blocked field goals. What put the Panthers in position for the Darnold-to-Marshall pass and Piniero’s winning field goal: the Panthers’ C J Henderson blocked a 55-yard field goal attempt by the Saints’ Wil Lutz with just 1:24 left in the game. That gave the Carolina good field position just near midfield — and a short field to maneuver aimed at another touchdown or setup their own field goal try.

The going was tough. On the first play after the blocked kick, Darnold was sacked for a loss. On the second, he was forced out of the pocket by Saints pressure, but managed a 13-yard carry and a first down. A pass toward the left side on first down, targeting Shi Smith, fell incomplete.

Then, with just 19 seconds remaining, it was time for Marshall’s clutch catch and run.

Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks, a Charlotte native and an Appalachian State alum, took over just five weeks into the season and helped the team gather itself and reorganize over an abundance of adversity. Photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers

While the Panthers did not exactly dominate the time of possession in this game, 30:55 vs. the 29:05 for the Saints, they did use an effective rushing attack to control the game’s tempo. The team’s net rushing total was 171 yards on 41 carries, most of it split evenly behind running backs Chuba Hubbard (21 carries, 69 yards) and D’Onta Foreman (12 carries, 68 yards).

Carolina’s passing game was virtually nonexistent until the end, Darnold completing just five of 15 pass attempts for 43 yards, his longest the 21-yard completion to Marshall that setup the winning field goal. He was intercepted twice by the Saints and suffered two QB sacks.

Defensively, Carolina only produced one sack of Saints QB Andy Dalton, but accounted for 3 quarterback hurries, 3 tackles for loss, and 3 passes deflected. Those accompanied a late second quarter forced fumble by Henderson, victimizing New Orleans rookie receiver Chris Olave and Xavier Woods was there to scoop it up for the Panthers.

One of the most bizarre plays of the day came at the end of an 82-yard Panthers drive midway through the third quarter. It was 3rd-and-3 from the Saints’ 3-yard line. On a designed QB keeper over left tackle, Darnold fumbled as he met Saints safety Tryrann Mathieu at the 1-yard line, the ball bounding forward into the end zone where Carolina offensive guard Michael Jordan recovered it for what would become the Panthers’ tying touchdown. According to one (unofficial) note on the Panthers’ website, it was the first fumble recovery TD scored by a Carolina offensive lineman in the history of the franchise.

Carolina QB Sam Darnold had a relatively effective season after returning to active duty, midseason. Photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers

And as if the scoring sequence wasn’t bizarre enough, about five minutes earlier the Saints’ defensive lineman Marcus Davenport and the Panthers’ Foreman got into some fisticuffs that sent both of them to their respective locker rooms, ejected for the day.

Carolina finishes the 2022-23 season with an overall record of 7-10, 6-6 under interim head coach Steve Wilks, who has made a strong case for having the “interim” label removed going into the 2023-24 campaign next fall. When you consider the adversity faced by the Panthers this season, including injuries, a quarterback carousel that included Baker Mayfield’s midseason release, the firing of former head coach Matt Rhule after just five games played in the season, the trading of star running back Christian McCaffrey to San Francisco, and the trade of wide receiver Robbie Anderson after an on-field blowup, what Wilks achieved in stabilizing the culture and getting the team refocused, and with an NFC South Division title within reach until the Week 17 loss was remarkable.

As much as the football world is looking forward to how the playoffs end up deciding a Super Bowl winner this year, the off-season maneuverings, including the NFL Draft, will have an abundance of storylines and the Panthers’ goings-on will be among them.


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