NEW ORLEANS – Advantage, New Orleans. Yes, the Carolina Panthers will get their shot at redemption on Dec. 22 in Charlotte, but for now, the Saints are one game up on the Cats in the NFC South race. After getting off to a 6-0 lead, the Panthers could do nothing right. They were ripped apart by Saints quarterback Drew Brees. The Panthers defensive backfield was exposed and Saints defensive coach Rob Ryan attacked the Panthers offensive in so many ways the visitors were unable to mount any kind of attack.
Panthers center Ryan Kalil said offensively, not being able to convert their two red zone opportunities into touchdowns made the Cats one-dimensional when they fell behind. That limited the way the Panthers could play…something they had not experienced in nine weeks.
On the other side of the ball, Brees bounced back from a rough outing last week to carve up the Carolina Panthers’ secondary Sunday, passing for 313 yards and four touchdowns in the Saints’ 31-13 win before a raucous crowd of 73,000-plus at the Superdome.
The loss snapped a franchise-record, eight-game win streak for the Panthers (9-4), who dropped a game behind New Orleans (10-3) in the race for first place in the NFC South. The Panthers’ last loss had been a 22-6 defeat at Arizona on Oct. 6. Carolina fell a game short of matching Kansas City’s nine-game streak for the longest this season.
But the Panthers allowed Brees to get in a rhythm, failing to get any pressure on him during a second quarter when Brees threw three touchdowns to take control of the game. That’s when the game was really decided. The Saints scored touchdowns on consecutive drives of 80, 86 and 76 yards and the Panthers did nothing.
The 31 points were the most allowed by the Panthers’ second-ranked defense since a 44-38 win at New Orleans in Week 17 last season. But that game came against a Saints’ defense that gave up more yards than any team in NFL history.
Marques Colston caught nine passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns, while tight end Jimmy Graham added six catches for 58 yards and two scores.
So…what really happened? Personally, I was not surprised the Saints won. I was surprised at the lack of fight the Panthers put up offensively. Brees is going to attack any defense…you know that. But Sunday night, in front of a national television audience, the Panthers weaknesses were totally exposed.
Brandon LaFell dropped a first-down pass when Carolina was still in the game. Cam Newton started well but lost his way, repeatedly holding the ball and allowing the New Orleans rush to take him down. Defensively, the front four for Carolina was inept. Were the Saints linemen holding a bit? It happens. But this unit plus the linebackers, is proud. They are the ones who put pressure on the other guys. Not Sunday night. Brees had time to find open receivers all night…and yes, they were open all night. Brees threw 41 passes before he was sacked. That’s because the Cats began to blitz in the third quarter. Why they didn’t do that in the first half is a mystery. The lesson here – do not give Drew Brees time to throw. Especially if your defensive backfield, the so-called “Legion of Whom,” is what it is.
The Panthers made mistakes, committed poorly timed penalties and came undone. The Panthers racked up four defensive penalties in the second quarter, three of which were credited to the secondary – holding on cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, pass interference on cornerback Drayton Florence and pass interference on safety Mike Mitchell. That’s one way to give up 31 points in a quarter.
Two weeks ago Mitchell called the New Orleans quarterback “soft,” and Brees responded with vintage play against the Panthers that exposed Mitchell and the entire Carolina secondary.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:
Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross: “We’re 9-4. The sky isn’t falling. We’d just gotten used to winning, eight weeks in a row now. We wanted to win. We prepared well. We just didn’t play well. But we know we’ve got them at home in two weeks. That being said, we can’t look past the Jets (next week) because they’re going to be tough.”
Gross on what he learned from the game: “Some tough love and getting hit in the mouth might not be the worst thing in the world for us now moving forward. These games are going to get bigger and bigger, and this is a bit of a reality check for us.”
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton: “We played a great team today, a playoff caliber team, and it’s a great measuring stick of who we are and where we want to go.”
Newton on the team’s failure to score touchdowns after getting into the red zone twice in the first quarter: “Field goals aren’t going to cut it. We know that as an offense.”
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera: “The attitude changed coming in at halftime, figuring what we tried to do earlier didn’t work. So we tried to do something different, tried to get after them and create some situations.”
Rivera talked about the defensive backfield and what happened: “There were some issues that did come up that we’ve got to be better with, whether it’s coverage or putting them in position to have better success.”
Rivera on his feelings after the loss: “I’m surprised and I’m disappointed. Not good enough.”