Game Balls from the Saints Sweep of the Panthers, 33-7

New Orleans culminates a 12-4 regular season by dominating Carolina on the road in a playoff tune-up.
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The New Orleans Saints finished their 2020 regular season with a 33-7 beat down of the Carolina Panthers. New Orleans enters the playoffs with a 12-4 record and the NFC's second seed, hosting the Chicago Bears in a first-round next Sunday. The Saints became the first team in the 19-year history of the NFC South to go undefeated in the division, going 6-0 against their rivals.

New Orleans came into this game severely shorthanded. Wide receivers, Deonte Harris, Tre'Quan Smith, and All-Pro Michael Thomas were already on injured reserve coming into the game. Running backs Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, and Michael Burton were unavailable because they were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list list just days earlier. Their secondary was also depleted on defense. Safety Marcus Williams was out with an ankle injury, while safeties Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and D.J. Swearinger were also on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Jan 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (17) catches a touchdown as Panthers strong safety Juston Burris (31) defends in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY

Jan 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (17) catches a touchdown as Panthers strong safety Juston Burris (31) defends in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY

New Orleans got off to a fast start and never looked back against the Panthers. They forced Carolina to a three-and-out on the game's opening possession, culminating with a Trey Hendrickson sack of QB Teddy Bridgewater on 3rd down. The Saints took advantage of excellent field position after the Carolina punt, driving 42 yards for the game’s first score with an 18-Yd touchdown pass from Drew Brees to TE Jared Cook.

New Orleans had 347 yards of total offense, but repeatedly took advantage of terrific field position and efficiently converted their scoring opportunities. The offensive line was dominant, paving the way for a running game that averaged over five yards per carry despite the absence of their top four backs. 

Veteran WR Emmanuel Sanders was the team's leading receiver, catching 9 passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Jared Cook, who had 4 receptions for 43 yards and a score, and Marquez Callaway (3-51 yards) gave Brees a competent receiving trio.

Jan 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Panthers quarterback P.J. Walker (6) is sacked by New Orleans Saints defensive end Carl Granderson (96) in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Panthers quarterback P.J. Walker (6) is sacked by New Orleans Saints defensive end Carl Granderson (96) in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints offense was efficient enough for the win, but its defense was again dominant. New Orleans collected 3 sacks and recorded six QB hits, while holding the Carolina rushing attack to 74 yards and less than four yards per carry. The Panthers were just 1 of 9 on third downs and turned the ball over three times deep in scoring position when they could put a drive together. New Orleans intercepted Carolina quarterbacks five times, as a depleted secondary came up big in crucial moments of the game.

Here were some of the most dominant performers from the Saints pounding of the Panthers.

TY MONTGOMERY, RUNNING BACK

Jan 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Ty Montgomery (88) with the ball as Carolina Panthers free safety Tre Boston (33) defends in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY 

Jan 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Ty Montgomery (88) with the ball as Carolina Panthers free safety Tre Boston (33) defends in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY 

Montgomery had just the third 100-Yd rushing performance of the season by a Saints running back, picking up 105 yards on 18 carries. When rookie RB Tony Jones Jr. left with an injury in the second quarter, all rushing production fell on the shoulders of Montgomery and Taysom Hill. The versatile 27-Yr old running back/wideout responded with his most productive outing in his first season with New Orleans.

He had a 36-Yd run in the second quarter to set up the second New Orleans touchdown after the Panthers had tied the game. Montgomery ran with good power between the tackles and burst in the open field, further strengthening his team's running back depth as they head into the postseason.

MARSHON LATTIMORE, CORNERBACK

Jan 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) intercepts a pass intended for Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel (10) in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY 

Jan 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) intercepts a pass intended for Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel (10) in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY 

Lattimore had one of his defense's five interceptions, a third quarter pick-off deep in Panther territory to set up another touchdown. He was primarily assigned to Carolina wideout Robby Anderson, holding the Panthers leading receiver to just 2 catches against his coverage. Lattimore's lock down man-to-man coverage allowed the secondary to employ packages to make up for its missing personnel.

The Saints will have to overcome several of the NFL's top wideouts if they are to have success in the playoffs.  Lattimore, a three-time Pro Bowler, has shown capable of shutting down the league's best receivers.

DREW BREES, QUARTERBACK

Jan 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looks to pass as center Erik McCoy (78) blocks in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY 

Jan 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looks to pass as center Erik McCoy (78) blocks in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY 

It was not a standout day for Brees statistically. He completed 22 of 32 passes for 201 yards, but he threw three touchdown passes. Brees continually found the open man out of a depleted receiving corps with precise strikes in key moments and was masterful with his audibles all afternoon.

He crisply led the Saints on a 63-Yd field goal drive with less than 3 minutes left in the second quarter to put the team up by two scores at halftime, then hit Callaway with a perfectly thrown deep strike to set up another field goal out of the break. Brees' elite recognition of opposing defenses gives his offense an enormous advantage heading into the postseason, regardless of the surrounding personnel.

SEAN PAYTON, HEAD COACH

Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Payton has done perhaps the best coaching job of his outstanding career this season. Left with just two days to alter his game plan after finding out he’d be with none of his running backs, the offensive mastermind expertly used the players left at his disposal.

It’s something Payton has done his entire career, but the coach has been without several offensive stars most of the 2020 season. Brees, Kamara, and Michael Thomas have been on the field together for only ten quarters this year, but Payton's offense remains in the league's top-10 in several categories. He will probably be overlooked for Coach of the Year honors, but Sean Payton might be the Saints most dangerous offensive weapon as he leads his squad to a possible second Super Bowl title.