CHARLOTTE, NC - The Carolina Panthers took care of business on Sunday afternoon with a 26-7 win over the New Orleans Saints to move to 2-0 on the season.
Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers got off to a hot start on Sunday afternoon, taking the opening series in for a touchdown. The drive was kickstarted on a 32-yard pass to Christian McCaffrey who slipped through a couple of whimpy tacklers as he crossed into Saints territory. Darnold then hit DJ Moore for 20 yards on an out route which set up the scoring play. Darnold rolled right and found Brandon Zylstra coming across the middle for a wide open 20-yard touchdown.
Carolina's defenses recorded back-to-back three and outs to open up the game. Brian Burns and Haason Reddick split a sack on the first series, while Bravvion Roy got his hand on a ball at the line of scrimmage to force another punt.
The Panthers took nearly seven and a half minutes off the clock with a 15-play, 64-yard methodical drive. Carolina converted on three third downs but on 3rd and about a yard inside the five, Christian McCaffrey was stuffed for a loss of one on the play. Earlier in the drive, left guard Pat Elflein injured his hamstring and was replaced by Dennis Daley. The play inside the five went behind Daley which was a questionable call after he just entered the game a few snaps prior. Zane Gonzalez notched his first points as a Panther with a 20-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0.
Sam Darnold remained sharp in the first half, carving up the Saints' shorthanded secondary. On 2nd and long in plus territory, Darnold was going to go to his left but it was covered up quickly. He stepped up in the pocket to evade pressure, flushed out to the right and hit Dan Arnold near the sideline for a gain of 17. A few plays later, Darnold would get his 2nd touchdown toss of the day on a quick slant to DJ Moore in one on one coverage.
With under two minutes remaining in the first half, the Saints were hoping to muster up some points on the board. The drive didn't start off great as the Carolina pass rush generated a ton of pressure on Jameis Winston getting the Saints in a 3rd and 25. Winston attempted to throw the ball left handed to avoid a sack but was flagged for intentional grounding. There aren't many play calls for that situation but Winston was able to complete a 28-yard pass down the field to Lil' Jordan Humphrey to move the sticks. Phil Snow dialed up pressure on three straight plays which effected Winston in the pocket. On 3rd down, Jeremy Chinn went untouched up the middle which forced Winston to roll right and throw downfield, off-balance, with Gross-Matos in his face. The play resulted in an interception by Juston Burris and the Saints went into the half trailing 17-0.
Carolina's offense had some hiccups in the third quarter. They moved the ball well on their 2nd series but stalled out around the Saints 32. Zane Gonzalez's 50-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Zack Baun and returned to the Panthers' 38-yard line.
On Carolina's next offensive series, Sam Darnold looked off a wide open Terrace Marshall Jr. in the flat and tried to shovel a pass to his running back but was intercepted by Malcolm Roach - the first critical mistake Darnold made in a Panther uniform.
The Saints were handed a short field and capitalized notching their first points of the game on an eight yard touchdown run by Jameis Winston. The Panthers had everything covered up in the back end but Winston recognized the gaping hole in the middle of the field and just had one man to beat - Juston Burris.
A few minutes later, Joseph Charlton pinned the Saints inside their own 10, creating a long field for New Orleans. On 3rd & 4, Brian Burns laid a big hit on Jameis Winston that popped the ball loose, DaQuan Jones recovered. After further review, it was ruled that Winston still had control of the ball with his arm going forward. Instead of having the ball at the New Orleans 11, Carolina started their next drive at their own 47.
New Orleans helped get some of that field position back with a questionable roughing the passer call on Christian Ringo. Darnold then hit on back-to-back passes to Terrace Marshall Jr. and Robby Anderson for a combined 27 yards which set up an 11-yard rushing touchdown by Christian McCaffrey. Ironically, the kicking woes continues with the point after attempt being missed by Zane Gonzalez.
However, he redeemed himself a few minutes later by nailing a 44-yarder to make it a three score game, 26-7 with roughly three minutes to go.
With time not on their side, the Saints were trying to push the ball downfield and score quick. Winston hooked up with Juwan Johnson for a gain of 23 but Winston followed that up by throwing his second pick of the day, this time, to Jaycee Horn, the first of his NFL career.
The Saints got one more opportunity with the football but Sean Payton had no interest in doing anything other than taking a knee and getting out of Carolina.
Carolina will have a short week this week as they will travel to Houston in a few days to take on the Texans on Thursday Night Football at 8:20 p.m. EST on the NFL Network.
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