CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The road has been cruel and unmerciful to the New Orleans Saints all season.
But never more so than in Sunday's 17-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
This one was the hardest for the Saints (10-5) to take because they were actually proud of their effort. This wasn't like those games in which they flat-lined at St. Louis or New York or Seattle. This time, they grinded and gritted and gutted out a performance that was almost good enough to win for 59 minutes.
The offense wasn't pretty, but it was resilient, churning out a 97-yard touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter that felt like the one that would finally end this epidemic of ugly road losses.
And then it took all of 32 seconds for Carolina's Cam Newton to march his team down the field in the final minute for a game-winning and gut-wrenching touchdown.
Now, as further punishment for their 3-5 record on the road this season, the Saints almost certainly will have to hit the road as a wild-card team in the playoffs -- although they still could finish anywhere from the No. 2 seed to out of the playoffs entirely.