This is the backstory to one of the great moments of Week 16, the Carolina Panthers' win over the New Orleans Saints that helped the team clinch its first playoff berth since 2008. The Panthers' last-minute win over the New Orleans Saints, as well as the Arizona Cardinals' road triumph over the Seattle Seahawks and the Dallas Cowboys' rally past the Washington Redskins, are nominees for the GMC Never Say Never Moment of the week. Cast your vote for the GMC Never Say Never Moments of Week 16.
It was a seismic shift in the NFC playoff picture. The New Orleans Saints, once comfortably sitting atop the NFC South and in the NFC's No. 2 playoff seed, were defeated by the hard-charging Carolina Panthers, winners of 10 of their last 11 games. That result thrust the Panthers into the division driver's seat and within a win and some help from the conference's top seed.
Here are the key moments before the moment:
Panthers finally break through
The play: Running back DeAngelo Williams breaks free for a 43-yard touchdown run.
The aftermath: After two Shayne Graham field goals put the Saints up 6-0 in the second quarter, the Panthers finally got on the board when Williams busted free for the long touchdown run. That touchdown was set up by a Thomas Davis interception of Saints quarterback Drew Brees on the previous play. The Panthers defense played decidedly better in Sunday's win than in a 31-13 beatdown in New Orleans two weeks ago. The Panthers sacked Brees six times, five in the first half. Linebacker Luke Kuechly had a career-high 24 tackles and also made an interception (that tackle total is tied for the most in a game since 1994).
When it rains it pours
The play: The anticipated torrential downpour finally arrived during the third quarter.
The aftermath: The Panthers held a 10-6 lead when the skies opened up and drenched players, fans and the field. This is football, and the show must go on no matter what Mother Nature might throw the game's way. This is a good thing.
The play: Brees finds tight end Jimmy Graham for a 5-yard touchdown play.
The aftermath: In what appeared to be a game-breaking play on a day when it was difficult to collect touchdowns, the Saints struck midway through the fourth quarter for their first touchdown of the game. The score gave Graham an NFL-leading 15 touchdown receptions. He's two touchdown catches behind Rob Gronkowski's 17 from 2011 for the New England Patriots.
The play: With 23 seconds remaining in the game, Newton threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to receiver Domenik Hixon.
The aftermath: The score put the Panthers up for good at 17-13 and clinched the team's first playoff berth since 2008, doing so in front of their rain-drenched fans.
Suddenly and without much warning, the Panthers are poised to make a strong run at their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. All the team has to do to secure the division title and a first-round playoff bye is defeat the hapless Atlanta Falcons in the regular-season finale. With a playmaking quarterback and an opportunistic defense, the Panthers have valuable pieces in place to make a postseason run.
Follow Jim Reineking on Twitter @jimreineking.