After being unwilling participants in a decision that saw an opposing offense produce the second-most points (27) and yards (429) that New Orleans has surrendered this season, the Saints defense on Sunday night will be challenged by a quarterback who may be a supersized version of the one who led Seattle to its 34-7 victory Monday night.
Carolina's Cam Newton and Seattle's Russell Wilson may not run identical offenses. But Newton (6 feet 5, 245 pounds) can be as elusive, accurate and effective this Sunday as Wilson (5-11, 205) was Monday.
The winner of Sunday's game will take a one-game lead in the NFC South Division standings and will have the second-best record in the conference. The Saints and Panthers are 9-3.
"They are similar and if you just write down on paper what it is that they do well," Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "They can extend plays with their legs, they have a big arm and can throw downfield. They run the ball well as a team and they are very patient.
"That is what we just faced and that is what we are going to face this week. They run the ball all day and then they hit these big, explosive plays down field. Or if something is not there, you have Cam Newton extending the play by getting out of the pocket, running, or someone getting open late in the play and he makes the throw.
"We still have to stop this running game, and when we do get in these situations where we are covering guys, we have to keep Cam in the pocket and eliminate the big plays down the field."
Newton has been the key offensively to Carolina's eight-game winning streak.
Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft and the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year, has completed 153 of 239 passes (64 percent) for 1,731 yards and 13 touchdowns, with six interceptions during Carolina's winning streak. He also has run 62 times for 324 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and five touchdowns.
For the season, he has completed 226 of 366 for 2,616 yards and 19 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions, and has run 82 times for 447 yards and six scores.
"I think early on in his career, he played on his true, natural ability," Carolina Coach Ron Rivera said. "I think now, he understands (the offense) even more so, he understands the opponent even more so. I think that's what has helped him.
"He's been very efficient with the football, he's made a lot of good decisions. At times, he has managed the games and at times, he has taken the games over. It's just keeping him in his comfort level and the play-makers around him making plays when they've had to."
That description somewhat fit Wilson, who contributed significantly to the Saints' second-worst defensive performance of the season.
"He's very athletic, he's strong," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "Not only is he a very good passer but he's someone now who does a very good job extending plays and does a very good job deciding when to run, or when to look for the throw down the field. And there's a difference.
"Some guys will scramble to run, some guys will scramble to throw. I think he's very confident with either option. There's a lot of things he brings to the table that make it very difficult to defend."
But Saints defensive players said they haven't lost confidence despite Monday's setback. With two games in three weeks against the Panthers, the Saints know that the division title is at stake and that a victory on Sunday night would inch them closer toward achieving that goal.