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One last chance for victory before Saints, Panthers end seasons

Jan 1, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Carolina Panthers interm head coach Steve Wilks during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Neither the Carolina Panthers nor the New Orleans Saints will be going to the playoffs.

Their flickering hopes were snuffed out last weekend, so both of their seasons will end when they meet Sunday in New Orleans.

Both teams have played better down the stretch and hope to grab another victory to take positive momentum into the offseason.

The Panthers (6-10) are 5-6 under Steve Wilks, who was promoted from defensive coordinator to interim head coach when Matt Rhule was fired after a 1-4 start. Reportedly Wilks is a long shot to be retained, and the organization spoke with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh recently about the opening.

“I’m not really concerned about that,” Wilks said. “My focus is just trying to win this week. My mindset just like the players’ is to stay focused on staying focused.

“We want to finish on a positive note. It’s always good when you can go into the offseason with a win and have confidence and propel that into the offseason. It means a lot, and I think our players understand that.”

Head coach Dennis Allen is echoing a similar message about the Saints (7-9) this week. His team has won three consecutive games after they squandered a 13-point lead in the final three minutes of a 17-16 loss at Tampa Bay on Dec. 5.

That sent New Orleans into its bye week with an uphill climb and put the Bucs in control of the NFC South, which they won last week by beating the Panthers.

“We talked during the bye week about how we didn’t control our playoff fate,” Allen said. “That didn’t work out. All we can control is how we finish. Our goal was to finish 4-0. We’ve accomplished three of those. We have one more opportunity.

“That’s what you do as professionals — compete to win the game — and that’s what I expect our team to do.”

The Saints, who lost at Carolina 22-14 in Week 3, have ridden a resurgent defense to their strong finish. They beat the NFC-leading Eagles 20-10 last week in Philadelphia — the fifth consecutive game in which they allowed fewer than 20 points.

Allen was promoted from defensive coordinator to replace Sean Payton in February. He earned the promotion by guiding one of the NFL’s best defenses over the previous five seasons.

But Allen said becoming the head coach as well as turning over the coordinator responsibilities to the tandem of defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen and secondary coach Kris Richard required a transition period.

“What we’re doing (on defense) has proven it can be successful in our league,” Allen said. “Our guys stayed with it, and we’re seeing the fruits of that labor now.”

Six Saints starters missed practice Wednesday because of injury — tackle Ryan Ramczyk (hip), who’s not expected to play Sunday; cornerback Paulson Adebo (hamstring), who said he doesn’t expect to play Sunday; tackle James Hurst (foot), guard Andrus Peat (ankle), tight end Juwan Johnson (quad) and safety Marcus Maye (shoulder).

The primary Panthers absence was defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis (back).

–Field Level Media