Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
METAIRIE, La. – When Roman Harper turned around and saw Panthers receiver Steve Smith sprinting towards the end zone, the Saints safety felt he had only one option, especially once he perceived the Carolina player showboating.
So Harper darted towards Smith, getting to him more than three steps into the end zone, belting him with a shot to the body.
“He was in the end zone and I just didn’t like the way he was prancing a little bit, showboating,” Harper said Monday. “He’s just got to pay for it a little bit. It’s just part of football.”
Harper’s head coach doesn’t share those thoughts, even after the Saints left Charlotte, N.C., with an important 30-27 divisional win.
Payton said he delivered a message to his players after the skirmish in the end zone and several other personal fouls were called.
“I wanted to make sure we did not end up losing this game because of a foul and come in the next day and say, ‘It’s alright,’ ” Payton said. “It’s not OK. It’s one thing to be on the quarterback with a hit that is close and (you can) interpret it as you might. But we’ve got to be smart. I think there’s a difference.”
Harper’s personal foul resulted in a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff. But his was one of nine penalties for 82 yards, of which five were on the defense for 47 yards and four of which gave Carolina first downs.
Used to be that the Carolina game was always played with respect, something that mirrored the relationship between Payton and former-Panthers coach John Fox.
But Fox was fired after the 2010 season and Ron Rivera took over.
Rivera has installed a tough, never-back-down mentality with that franchise.
Add to that Carolina signing tight end Jeremy Shockey, whom the Saints jettisoned in the offseason, and the powder keg only needed a match to be struck.
Shockey was making motions towards the Saints’ sideline throughout the game and when it was over, he went directly into the locker room without shaking hands.
“He’s very passionate about the game,” Payton said, before adding, “. I think we’re always in the business of searching for people with passion. I didn’t notice anything different other than seeing Jeremy play or seeing Steve Smith play with emotion or seeing our guys such as Jimmy Graham play with emotion. It was a hard-fought game.”
Harper, for one, sees the rivalry only gaining intensity from here on out.
“I would probably vote on yes,” Harper said. “In the past, they haven’t beaten us the last year or so. When we played them late in the season the games haven’t counted as much so it kind of takes away a little bit of the rivalry.”