NEW ORLEANS -- Mistakes cost the Carolina Panthers big on Sunday as they fell to the New Orleans Saints, 31-21.
In the second quarter, the Panthers looked like they would absolutely implode.
A facemask penalty was called on left tackle Matt Kalil that forced a long third down to open the quarter. On the next series, a botched punt by Michael Palardy gave the ball right back to the Saints on Carolina's 31. Veteran defensive end Julius Peppers was then flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on third down of the New Orleans drive, which allowed the Saints to convert and ultimately score.
Carolina rallied late in the quarter with a takeaway of its own, courtesy of safety Mike Adams, and from there the Panthers turned near disaster into a competitive game, scoring off the following drive and heading into the locker room at halftime down 21-14.
But Kamara and the Saints could not be contained. Kamara broke off a 20-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, extending the lead to 28-14.
An attempt to rally by Carolina was stalled by inches on a fourth-down conversion attempt in the fourth quarter.
Receiver Devin Funchess snagged a touchdown pass from quarterback Cam Newton with four minutes left to play, but it was too little, too late to overcome the hole dug by the Panthers' early mistakes. Carolina managed just 115 yards of offense in the second half.
Carolina (8-4), in a race with New Orleans (9-3) for the lead in the NFC South, drops a full game behind the Saints. The Panthers return home to face the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Three who mattered
Alvin Kamara: Players seemed to bounce off Kamara as he continued to make his case for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Kamara scored New Orleans' first touchdown of the day and scored again in the third quarter after shaking off two Panthers defenders.