(WVUE) - It could have been worse. That was my first thought when the Saints defeated the Panthers, 31-21, Sunday.
Unlike last week, when it felt like the Saints could've lost by more. This week, by the time it was over, it felt like the final margin could have been much more than 10 points.
Coming in, what was expected was an NFC South thriller. When both teams opened the game with touchdowns, it certainly felt like that was what we were going to get. But It never materialized. Instead, Mark Ingram broke off a second quarter 72-yard run with the game tied. The Saints never looked back.
They took over and ran away with a complete and convincing win. They controlled the game with over 33 minutes of time of possession. They won the third down battle, and they complemented each other in three phases. Had it not been for an inopportune Josh Hill fumble with the Saints up 21-7, it could have been an even bigger rout.
That demonstrates the growth of this franchise. They didn't play well the last two weeks, and came into Sunday knowing they had to win to keep pace. Falling to 8-4 with a short week, awaiting on the road against their biggest rival, could've have put them on the outside looking into the playoff race.
But they responded the way contenders do. They embraced the sense of urgency and met the challenge.
"Coming back from L.A. last week, four of these last five games are divisional games, so this is where our best football needs to be played," said quarterback Drew Brees.
On Sunday, they got off to the right start.