CHARLOTTE -- Entering the day, the Saints had beaten the Panthers in four straight, but that all came to an end on Sunday. Sloppy play on both sides of the ball and penalties did New Orleans in, resulting in an ugly Week 2 loss. Of course, you could also tip your cap to Joe Brady and Matt Rhule's squad for how they were able to get after it in the first half. Here's how things went down in Bank of America Stadium.
The Saints won the opening coin toss and elected to defer, putting the Panthers on offense to start. It took them just five plays and three minutes to get into the end zone, as they marched 75 yards down the field. Big plays to Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and the eventual 20-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Zylstra were key to their success.
New Orleans went to work on offense after a good kick return from Deonte Harris. The very first play resulted in a roughing the passer penalty, helping take some early pressure off the Saints. Jameis Winston got sacked on the ensuing play, forcing the offense into a longer situation. Two false start penalties pinned them into a 3rd-and-18 situation, and the Saints had to punt.
The Panthers got pinned inside their own 10-yard-line to start their next drive, but were able to move out of it pretty quickly. A roughing the passer penalty on Payton Turner certainly helped, and then some other big plays over the middle working against the linebackers. The Saints defense would get a huge 3rd Down stop when Demario Davis nearly picked off Darnold after good coverage by the defense.
Offensively, the Saints couldn't get a drive going, and settled with just 15 total net yards of offense in the first quarter. The 3rd Down play looked to give New Orleans a first down, as the play drawn up was a slant route to Chris Hogan. However, the pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and didn't materialize.
Carolina took advantage, putting together another strong offensive drive and imposing their will. From the opening 15 minutes, they dominated the time of possession 11:16 to 3:44. They also outgained the Saints 159-15 on offense. Their 15-play, 64-yard drive ended up getting to the Saints' 1-yard-line, but they could not punch it in on a 3rd-and-Goal attempt and opted for a 20-yard field goal from Zane Gonzalez to go up 10-0 with 11:11 left until the half.
Just when you thought the Saints would get something going offensively, they came up short on their next drive. It looked promising after a nice 16-yard hookup to Chris Hogan after Winston did a great job stepping up in the pocket, but he would get sacked for an 11-yard loss on the very next play, and the offense couldn't recover.
The Panthers once again put together a strong offensive drive, going 72 yards in 10 plays. It took them 5:30 to go up 17-0, as Darnold found D.J. Moore for the score from 2 yards out. New Orleans showed signs of life before halftime after another good return by Deonte Harris, but took a bad intentional grounding penalty that pushed them back right after it. Winston converted a big 3rd-and-17 to Lil'Jordan Humphrey for a 27-yard gain, but it was all for naught, as Winston was picked off three plays later. The Saints pass protection struggled all first half.
With the Saints getting the ball first and relying on halftime adjustments, it didn't start out swell. They went 3-and-out to start the half, not being able to find much to work with. They finally caught a break after the Panthers continued marching down the field, as a big sack by Bradley Roby in his debut forced a 50-yard Zane Gonzalez field goal attempt. Carl Granderson got the block, and Zack Baun recovered to return it for a nice gain. Unfortuantely, the Saints would turn the ball over on downs after being unable to convert a 4th-and-5 attempt in Panthers territory.
Carolina would get stopped to set up another punt after some good defensive play. However, the Saints offense still struggled to find their groove, and end up having another three-and-out. They caught a major break on the next Carolina possession, as P.J. Williams got to Darnold on sack/fumble play that resulted in a Malcolm Roach recovery to put the Saints in business at the Panthers' 25-yard-line. They put together a 5-play, 18-yard drive that resulted in their points of the day, a Jameis Winston 8-yard rushing touchdown. The play before saw Alvin Kamara lose 7 yards from the 1-yard-line.
On the ensuing Panthers offensive drive, they ran several plays and got a big 3rd Down pickup from Christian McCaffrey, but the Saints defense came up strong on the next set of downs to force a punt. Payton Turner was huge on the series, and netted his first career sack, a 4-yard loss on Darnold.
With 9:42 to play, the Saints had another three-and-out series, which came with some interesting drama. Jameis Winston had what appeared to be a fumble on 3rd-and-4, which was recovered by the Panthers. However, upon further review, it was determined that his arm was going forward. Regardless, the Saints punted the ball back to Carolina.
The Saints got popped for a roughing the passer call from Christian Ringo on the next Panthers possession, and Terrace Marshall converted a big 3rd Down attempt to help extend the drive. Darnold put Carolina's offense in a good position to score after hooking up with Robby Anderson on a 16-yard gain. McCaffrey would take it in just one player later from 11 yards out, extending the Panthers lead to 23-7 with 5:53 to go. Gonzalez missed the extra point.
On the next offensive possession, the Saints would once again get stymied, as Winston suffered more bumps and bruises courtesy of the Panthers defense. The Panthers would churn some more clock after the turnover on downs, adding a 40-yard field goal from Zane Gonzalez to extend their lead to 26-7 with 3:21 left in the game.
Any semblance of ending on a positive note was crushed on the next drive, as Winston ending up throwing a pick to Jaycee Horn on a ball that probably shouldn't have been thrown. It was concerning, to say the least. The Panthers took over from there, and were able to run down the clock and improve to 2-0 on the season.
Whether you want to chalk this game up to a lack of coaching availability or key players being around, it was an ugly loss that is going to have a lot asking questions about this team this week. Defensively, the team improved tremendously in the second half, however the offense was mostly flat all game. Week 3 sees the team traveling to take on the Patriots in Foxboro.