NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints are now 4-2 on the year after closing out October perfect. It was a bit more of a struggle than anyone would like to admit, but Sean Payton's team did enough to get a 27-24 victory over the Panthers. The offense was crisp on the day, but some defensive breakdowns still plagued Dennis Allen's squad. However, a win is a win in the NFL.
New Orleans started with ball after the Panthers won the coin toss, and put together their best offensive drive of the season, going 75 yards in 14 plays that took 8:26 off the clock. They went 3-of-3 on 3rd Down, getting contributions from a variety of players en route to the game's first points. Big plays from Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara also helped, but when it counted most, Drew Brees found Jared Cook for a 4-yard touchdown grab. Cook's effort and concentration was tremendous, and the Saints took an early 7-0 lead.
The first Panthers offensive drive resulted in a 43-yard Joey Slye field goal, as they went 50 yards in 9 plays. Teddy Bridgewater went 3-of-5 for 34 yards on the drive, making a crazy play of his own to evade a C.J. Gardner-Johnson sack and other pressure to find Robby Anderson for a first down. David Onyemata made a big tackle on Bridgewater as he was attempting to escape the pocket to force the field goal try.
The Saints offense countered, finding the end zone again after a 9-play, 78-yard drive. Brees found Marquez Callaway several times on the drive, and he was up to 5 receptions for 56 yards on 6 targets early. New Orleans also got a big 25-yard rush by Latavius Murray on the series, and it was the Drew Brees leap from a yard out that led to a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter.
It took the Panthers just 1:17 to strike, as Bridgewater connected with D.J. Moore on a 74-yard score. The closest Saints player was Malcolm Jenkins, as it was clear the secondary had another busted coverage assignment. Afterwards, you could see a lot of discussion on the sideline with the secondary. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen threw down the tablet in disgust after looking at it, while Malcolm Jenkins tried to provide some direction for the secondary. Even Jameis Winston came over to offer some insight.
New Orleans looked to counter again, especially after big plays from Alvin Kamara and Deonte Harris. However, James Hurst, in place of Terron Armstead, would give up a free hit on Brees to force a strip-sack to give the Panthers back the ball. It wouldn't take long for Carolina to take the lead, as Bridgewater piloted a 9-play, 65-yard drive that took 5:21 and ended with another D.J. Moore touchdown with 1:37 left before the half.
Drew Brees continued executing at a high level, shrugging off the earlier fumble by helping the Saints offense move down the field. New Orleans had an 8-play, 75-yard drive that saw Brees connect with Deonte Harris for a 4-yard touchdown with two seconds left until halftime, taking a 21-17 lead into the locker room. Alvin Kamara had more big plays on the drive, as well as some connections to Harris that helped move the chains.
Coming out the half, we'd get our first punt of the game after the Saints defense forced the Panthers offense off the field after six plays. New Orleans would go to work, but had a Marquez Callaway touchdown wiped off the board from a questionable offensive pass interference call on Tre'Quan Smith. The drive itself was a good one, going 58 yards in 13 plays, which included a big 3rd and 14 connection from Brees to Kamara. However, the Saints would have to settle for a 41-yard field goal from Wil Lutz, extending their lead to 24-17 with 4:24 left in the third quarter.
Carolina kept hanging in there, eventually tying the game back up at 24 with eight seconds left in the third quarter. Bridgewater helped put together an 8-play, 75-yard drive that took 4:16. A big hookup to Robby Anderson with C.J. Gardner-Johnson in coverage and a personal foul penalty after the play put the Panthers in Saints territory just like that. The Panthers got it down to a 1st and Goal situation from the Saints' 5-yard line, which was capped off by a Curtis Samuel rushing touchdown.
The Saints offense once again put together a long drive of their own, going 50 yards in 13 plays that took 7:09 off the clock, but once again couldn't convert it to a touchdown. They settled on a 41-yard field goal from Lutz to take a 27-24 lead with 7:55 left in the game after a costly James Hurst false start penalty backed them up into a 3rd and 13 situation.
It was hardly a surprise, but the Panthers made it interesting. However, Marcus Davenport got the team's first sack of the day on Bridgewater on a 3rd and 11 to force a 4th and 19. They'd attempt a 65-yard field goal, but it was short and the Saints would run out the clock and hold on to win 27-24, improving to 4-2 on the season.
The Saints have some injury concerns on their hands, but travel to Chicago to take on the Bears in a late kickoff next Sunday.