NewtonWhat. A. Game. It may not have been the prettiest game of football to watch but it was definitely one of the most exciting. The Carolina Panthers took the lead with 23 seconds left to beat division rivals the New Orleans Saints 17-13 to give the Panthers a 11-4 record, enough for the lead in the NFC South and a guaranteed playoff spot.

What are the five main things we can take away from this game? Well I have answers for you:

Defence wins matches.

Anytime you can limit Drew Brees, one of the top three quarterbacks in the league, to just one touchdown and force two interceptions you’ve had a good day on the defensive side of the ball. The Panthers also sacked Brees six times in a day the Saints offensive line will want to forget.

The Saints defence also turned up today, limiting the Panthers to less than 200 passing yards and under 100 rushing yards, infact DeAngelo Williams’ 43 yard touchdown run was more than half of Carolina’s total yards on the ground.

Luke Kuechly is the man!

With a total of 24, yes TWENTY FOUR tackles and an interception against the Saints, Luke Kuechly is proving that he is one of the best middle linebackers in the league, and at only 22 years old the future is bright for this young man. He should be in the race for defensive player of the year and has the starting linebacker spot locked down for at least the next decade.

The Panthers are playing smarter football.

If you need the proof that the Panthers offence has completely transformed into a real contender rather than just the highlight factory they were when Cam Newton first arrived in Carolina then look at these numbers. The number of 20+ yard plays the Panthers have had each year has gone from 66 in 2011, to 58 in 2012 to just 29 this year, and just look at the difference it has made to their record.

The loss of Steve Smith is huge for the Panthers.

As soon as Smith went down holding the back of his left leg early in the first quarter, it was clear the Carolina passing game would struggle, until the final drive of the game anyway. Smith is easily the best receiver for the Panthers, and as much as I like Brandon LaFell, he isn’t ready to lead the receiving corps in Carolina. Any chances of going deep into the playoffs are severely cut by the loss of Smith.

Onside kick recovered by the Saints, sound familiar?

Super Bowl memories anyone? The trademark Sean Peyton fake kickoff-onside kick play worked again for the Saints, it famously worked against the Colts in the Super Bowl a few years ago and it worked again this week. I mean who doesn’t like a good onside kick recovery?