In an abysmal performance rarely seen in the fifteen years with Sean Payton at head coach, the New Orleans Saints were soundly beaten, 26-7, by the Carolina Panthers.
New Orleans was pummeled along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The absence of six assistant coaches crippled any game-time adjustments. An incredible list of talented players were unavailable because of injuries.
The onetime vaunted depth of this team came up short in a listless performance by the entire squad.
Jameis Winston, under siege all afternoon, completed just 50% of his throws and committed two costly turnovers. The receiving corps could not get any separation, and the running game was stifled.
Defensively, New Orleans fared better in the second half, but got off the same lousy start.
Linebackers Zack Baun and Kaden Elliss were repeatedly exposed in coverage. The unit was unable to disrupt Panthers QB Sam Darnold, who eclipsed 300 yards for only the fifth time in his 40-game career.
While the Saints look to rebound quickly before a Week 3 trip to New England, there were a few bright spots from yesterday's letdown.
BLAKE GILLIKIN, PUNTER
Gillikin missed his rookie season of 2020 while on injured reserve. When the Saints released popular veteran Thomas Morstead this offseason, he quickly secured the punting job in training camp.
Gillikin boomed six punts against the Panthers for an average of 49 yards per kick. He pinned Carolina inside their own 10-yard line with his first punt, giving the defense a chance to establish a field position advantage. On his second, he boomed a long-range punt from the goal-line to again give his team a chance to flip field position.
Much like Morstead was throughout his fabulous career, Gillikin gave New Orleans a chance to establish control of field position. He has a strong leg to boot his team from deep in their own territory. He also showed excellent directional skills, able to pin an opponent close to their goal-line.
Gillikin's performance was part of a solid outing by the Saints special teams.
DE Carl Granderson blocked a Carolina field goal early in the third quarter. Baun returned the block into a scoring opportunity that was ultimately blown by the offense. Deonte Harris also had a strong game, returning three kickoffs for over 30 yards and one punt for 13 yards.
PAULSON ADEBO/BRADLEY ROBY, CORNERBACKS
Roby had a strong outing, considering he had only practiced with the team for four days after arriving in a trade. He had one of the team’s two sacks of Darnold and provided solid coverage on Panthers deep threat Robby Anderson.
Adebo, who had an outstanding rookie debut against Green Bay, had a more up-and-down performance. Panthers WR D.J. Moore had 7 receptions for 70 yards and a score in the first half. Much of that was against zone coverages, but Adebo surrendered the touchdown and another key reception.
Moore had only one second half reception, while Anderson was held to just 3 catches for 38 yards in the game. Neither Adebo or Roby got much help from the Saints pass rush, which rarely hurried Darnold in the first half.
Underhanded because of injuries to CB Marshon Lattimore and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Roby and Adebo held up well when used in man coverage.
Once Lattimore, Gardner-Johnson, and CB Ken Crawley return, they’ll combine with Adebo and Roby to give the Saints a strong coverage unit.
PAYTON TURNER, DEFENSIVE END
Turner made his rookie debut because of injuries to defensive ends Marcus Davenport and Tanoh Kpassagnon. Like the entire defense, the first-round pick got off to a slow start. He was caught out of position as a run defender on a few plays and stymied as a pass rusher.
Turner flipped the script in the second half. He finished with five tackles, including 3 stops for loss. He had an outstanding sequence early in the fourth quarter to end a Carolina drive and keep the Saints in the game.
During that series, Turner stuffed RB Christian McCaffrey for a loss, then sacked Darnold two plays later to end the drive at midfield. He provided stout run defense and a disruptive pass rush throughout the second half.
Turner flashed a glimpse of his immense talent against the Panthers. Kpassagnon may be back in action next week and the Saints still have Cameron Jordan and Granderson at defensive end.
With Davenport out for at least three more games, New Orleans will need more of the disruption that Turner showed in his first career outing.
IT’S ONLY WEEK TWO
New Orleans came into the game with an incredible 11 major contributors out because of injury. Remember that the Saints are still practicing in Dallas because of the displacement caused by Hurricane Ida.
Many teams have schizophrenic performances through the first two weeks of the regular season. New Orleans was no exception, after their 38-3 dismantling of the Packers in week 1. History tells us that this team will bounce back quickly.
Amazingly, the Saints have started either 1-1 or 0-2 47 times in the 55 years of this franchise. Only four times during the 15-year tenure of Sean Payton have the Saints started the year 2-0.
New Orleans has typically come on strong after slow starts, especially in recent years. The Saints own a 46-10 record after the first two weeks over the last four seasons, a winning percentage of. 821.
New Orleans has plenty to clean up on both sides of the ball before they travel north to face the 1-1 New England Patriots. If they follow their historical trend, the Saints will respond well to a listless loss.