The only time the Saints appeared to show much fight in their embarrassing 41-10 loss to Carolina on Sunday came in their own end zone after the Panthers scored their second touchdown.
Cam Newton leaped over the top and put the ball over the plane of the goal line to put the Panthers ahead 16-3 in the first quarter. He then taunted defensive end Cameron Jordan, infuriating linebacker Curtis Lofton, who shoved Newton just as he finished his usual Superman celebration.
That incited a melee, with numerous players scuffling in the end zone.
Carolina backup tight end Brandon Williams was ejected for shoving Jordan to the ground. Lofton was flagged for a personal foul.
“He (Newton) was yelling in one of the guys’ faces and I don’t take kindly to that,” Lofton said. “I saw it as straight disrespect and I did what I thought I had to do. … I would do it 100 times out of 100.”
“You can’t let anybody mess with your quarterback, no matter who it is, not matter when it is,” guard Trai Turner said. “When that unfolds, I’m going to be an enforcer.”
The incident did not change the course of a game. Carolina scored the next 24 points.
The Saints set a slew of marks they hope never get repeated. Among them:
The margin of defeat matched the most lopsided loss of the Sean Payton era. New Orleans also lost at Indianapolis 41-10 in the 2007 season opener.
It was the Saints’ worst lost in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome since a 55-21 defeat to Indianapolis in 2003.
The Saints have lost four in a row at home for the first time since 1999.
The Saints are 5-8 for the first time with Payton on the sideline.
“We were embarrassed,” said Lofton, whose 17 tackles were more than double anyone else on the team. “We apologize to our fans and our coaches. It’s on us as players.”
Reversal of fortune
Until Sunday, Carolina had been inept offensively in the first quarter all year.
Against the Saints defense, though, the Panthers turned into juggernauts.
Newton completed all five of his passes and ran twice for 25 yards as Carolina raced 80 yards in seven plays for its first touchdown on an opening possession since week 6 against Cincinnati.
The Panthers then converted two Saints turnovers into 10 points, getting a field goal after a Mark Ingram fumble and another touchdown after a Drew Brees interception.
Just like that, Carolina led 17-0 with 6:46 left in the first quarter, scoring more than half of the 30 points it put up in the first quarter through 12 games. The Panthers had been scoreless times in the opening period, including their 28-10 loss to the Saints on Oct. 30.
Carolina outgained New Orleans 315-84 in the first half. The Saints’ 24-3 halftime deficit was their largest since Oct. 29. 2006 against Baltimore, when they trailed 28-7 and ended up losing 35-22.
All seven of the Saints inactive players were healthy scratches — wide receiver Robert Meachem, cornerbacks Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Terrence Frederick, linebacker Moise Fokou, nose tackle Lawrence Virgil, guard Senio Kelemete and offensive tackle Nick Becton.
Meachem was the odd man out when New Orleans activated running back Khiri Robinson, who had missed six straight games after having forearm surgery.
No Williams, no problem
With frequent nemesis DeAngelo Williams sitting out because of a hand injury, New Orleans appeared to be in good shape against Carolina’s 21st-ranked rushing offense.
Guess again. Jonathan Stewart, who had only one 100-yard game against the Saints in his seven-year career, rushed for 155 yards on 20 carries, his most since gaining 206 against the New York Giants in 2009.
Williams has four 100-yard games against the Saints, including a 21-carry, 210-yard performance to end the 2012 regular season.
Understandably, the crowd was in an ornery mood.
The fans booed the Saints off the field at halftime. They booed after the Saints went three-and-out to start the second half. They booed after Stewart scored on a 69-yard run on Carolina’s first offensive player of the second half.
After someone threw a plastic beer bottle on the field, they even booed a P.A. announcement that reminded them, “Fans, please remember our fan code of conduct.”
One of the loudest cheers in the second half came when Newton stayed down briefly after a hard hit. If they hoped he was hurt, they were disappointed when he got up quickly.
The Saints still control their playoff destiny. If they beat Chicago, Atlanta and Tampa Bay, they win the NFC South. … Tight ends Jimmy Graham, Ben Watson and Josh Hill all dropped passes. … Carolina finished with 497 yards after not gaining 400 in regulation of any of its previous 12 games. … The already reeling Saints defense lost outside linebacker Junior Galette to a leg injury in the second quarter and cornerback Keenan Lewis to cramps in the third quarter. Galette returned in the second half, but Lewis did not.