While the Saints leapt out of the 2013 starting gate, the Panthers staggered. After four games, the Saints were unbeaten, the Panthers were already three games behind them at 1-3.
Their only victory a 38-0 shut-out of the winless Giants heading into the Carolina bye week, a victory that kept the wolves momentarily away from coach Ron Rivera's door. A 22-6 loss to Arizona upon the resumption of the season resumed the howling for Ron Rivera's head.
At that point he was the favorite to be the first coach of the new season to be fired. Eight straight wins followed and 10 of his next 11. Today he may be the favorite to be coach of the year.
After four games, the Saints record should have been accompanied by this admonition: "Warning: Objects in your rear view mirror are closer than they appear."
In the 11 games since, the Saints have been chased, caught, and passed by the Panthers. On what looked to be the road to the Super Bowl, the Saints have been road kill, 1-5 in their last six games in enemy territory.
In the Super Bowl year of 2009, the Saints adopted the mantra: "Finish strong." They still have the opportunity to do so in the postseason but it would take a recovery of Herculean proportions.
This Sunday, for the third straight week, the Saints can control their latest playoff destiny in victory...or have it controlled by others with a third straight defeat. Instead of finishing strong the Saints have finished wrong.
But finished yet, they are not.
One of the hoariest cliches of sports reads, "It's not how you start. It's how you finish."
With smiles on their faces in Carolina and frowns on ours in New Orleans this Monday, both groups of fans are saying, "Tell me about it."