The Saints know they’re getting their coach back next year. The Panthers can’t be sure of that yet.
Both teams finished the season 7-9 after a 44-38 Panthers win in the Superdome, a back-and-forth affair which featured 971 yards of combined offense.
Now when suspended and extended coach Sean Payton returns, he’ll have to fix a defense that gave up the most yards in NFL history.
For the Panthers, it was their fourth straight win to close the season, their fifth in the final six games under coach Ron Rivera. Of course, that means they started 2-8.
The Panthers got a huge swing on a disputed fumble by tight end Greg Olsen. While it appeared to have been recovered by the Saints, officials said after looking at it there was no clear recovery in bounds. That was part of a run of 28 unanswered points for the Panthers, helping them pull away late.
Now they have to wait to see what their future holds.
They know they’re looking for a new general manager, and the status Rivera remains up in the air. He’s 13-19 in two seasons, and taking a knee late allowed him to move his record to 2-12 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Many of his wins lacked pertinence (they won four of their final six last year), but the Panthers didn’t quit on him.
It’s up to Jerry Richardson to decide whether that means anything now.