They were without their top two wide receivers. They had another poor performance from their veteran safeties. Their defense did little to get off the field against an opposing offense yet again. In addition, their Pro Bowl left tackle was lost early in the game.
Despite all that, the New Orleans Saints fought their way to a 27-24 home victory against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
New Orleans squashed the Carolina running game, holding them to ten yards on the ground in the first half and just 37 for the game. The Saints defensive line got good pressure on former teammate Teddy Bridgewater throughout the game but couldn't bring the Panthers quarterback to the ground. Bridgewater escaped several times to make throws against a Saints secondary that had another rocky outing.
Bridgewater completed 23 of 28 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns. That included a 74-Yd 2nd quarter scoring strike to WR D.J. Moore, who beat safety Marcus Williams on yet another of his countless blown assignments this season.
Moore and WR Robby Anderson combined for 10 receptions and 167 yards, but the Saints limited them to shorter receptions in the second half.
The Saints would finally get a critical defensive stop in the fourth quarter when DE Marcus Davenport sacked Bridgewater to set up a 65-Yd field goal attempt that was just short and gave New Orleans the win.
As efficient as the Panthers offense was, the Saints were even sharper. New Orleans scored a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time this season, wouldn't punt the entire game, and rolled up 415 total yards.
The Saints helped their struggling defense by dominating time of possession on offense, gathering 26 first downs, and converting 12 of 14 third-down chances. Interior offensive linemen Andrus Peat, Erik McCoy, and Cesar Ruiz opened up cutback lanes for running backs Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara, paving the way to 138 yards on the ground.
Here were some of the top performers for the Saints in this important divisional victory.
MARQUEZ CALLAWAY, WIDE RECEIVER
Callaway, an undrafted rookie from Tennessee, has impressed coaches since early in training camp. He saw his first extensive action two weeks ago against the Chargers, responding with a big game as a punt returner and a few key receptions. Yesterday, Callaway stepped into an even more prominent role as the top receiving option for the Saints.
He led all New Orleans receivers with 8 catches for 75 yards - four receptions resulted in first downs. Callaway also had a 3rd quarter touchdown reception nullified because of a questionable penalty, but has established himself as a legitimate threat in the New Orleans offense for Brees.
ALVIN KAMARA, RUNNING BACK
Kamara continued his league-leading pace with 148 yards from scrimmage on 22 touches. The Carolina defense keyed on him, knowing he would be the top offensive option on most plays, but could still not stop him.
Kamara had a game-high 83 rushing yards and added 65 more on 8 receptions. He accounted for eight 1st downs.
One on an incredible effort to keep a 3rd quarter drive alive for a field goal and another on an equally impressive play to set up a 4th quarter field goal that would be the game-winning score. An injury-riddled New Orleans offense has leaned on Kamara's abilities this season, and he has responded with an MVP-type of a campaign through six games.
DREW BREES, QUARTERBACK
No Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, or Terron Armstead? No problem for Drew Brees, who completed 29 of 36 attempts for 287 yards with 2 touchdowns and added another score on the ground. Brees started the game by going 10 of 11 for 85 yards on the first two drives, both resulting in touchdowns.
Trailing 17-14 with just one timeout and 1:37 left in the first half, Brees completed 6 of 7 passes for 71 yards and a go-ahead touchdown strike to Deonte Harris with just five seconds remaining in the half. He kept the pressure on Carolina's defense in the second half, converting several key throws to keep possession of the ball. Tampa Bay's Tom Brady may have temporarily passed him later in the afternoon for the NFL's all-time leader in touchdown passes, but Drew Brees has shown that he can still be elite, no matter what weapons he has around him.