The game started off great for the Saints, as they received the opening kick and McCown led the offense on a 12 play, 67 yard drive that let to a Zach Hocker 31 yard field goal. He looked poised and confident as New Orleans marched down the field with the short passing attack. It appeared as if the Panthers were primed to go down the field an answer the opening score after they gained 41 yards on their first four plays, but the Saints defense finally locked things down and forced a punt that would be downed at the 6 yard line. From there, McCown marched his team on a 16 play, 94 yard drive that took 9:11 off of the clock and ended on a 5 yard touchdown run from Mark Ingram. After just two offensive drives, things were looking good as New Orleans took a 10-0 lead.
Carolina started their next drive at the 20 yard line and made sure not to stall out once again. Cam Newton and his team marched 80 yards in 12 plays as he hit Greg Olsen for an 11 yard touchdown pass to close back within three. The Saints then had a quick three and out, punting right back to the Panthers. They then went right back down the field, threatening to take the lead before halftime, but ran out of time and had to settle for a 20 yard Graham Gano field goal, despite getting to the Saints 2 yard line. After a tale of two quarters for each team, they’d head to halftime with it tied up at 10-10.
Coming out to start the third quarter, Carolina picked up a quick first down to start their drive, but then couldn’t get anything else going and was forced to punt. Brad Nortman’s punt was muffed by rookie Marcus Murphy, forcing him to scramble to pick it up at his own 6 yard line and only be able to gain a few yards, but the Panthers were penalized for their gunner, Teddy Williams, going out of bounds and not attempting to get right back in, which is considered unnecessary roughness and a 15 yard penalty. After Carolina was forced to re-kick, Murphy made them pay by taking the second one 74 yards to the end-zone for his first career NFL touchdown. On the extra point attempt, McCown could not handle the snap and was tackled, leaving the score at 16-10.
As they did following New Orleans’ first touchdown, Carolina answered with a touchdown of their own and they did it in a hurry. A 55 yard pass from Newton to Ted Ginn Jr set the Panthers up at the Saints 25 yard line. A few plays later, Newton hit Olsen for their second touchdown connection of the day and would take the lead 17-16. Things then started to slip away for New Orleans, as Ben Watson fumbled just before going to the ground following a reception, setting Carolina up with great field position at their own 42 yard line. The Saints defense was able to hold them to a field goal, as Gano hit his second one of the day, this one from 47 yards to extend the lead to 20-16.
Down four, McCown and his offense could only muster up 30 yards, punting the ball right back to the Panthers. Newton took his team right down the field and extended their lead to two scores with a 13 yard touchdown run, his third touchdown of the day.
Now down by eleven with under ten minutes left in the game, McCown and the Saints had to make something happen and they did just that. They went 80 yards in 10 plays with McCown doing his best Drew Brees impression, hitting five different receivers on the drive to set up a 2 yard touchdown run by Khiry Robinson. Sean Payton once again tried the old “Lance Moore” play on the two-point conversion, which is when the slot receiver runs a quick out to the front pylon, but the pass feel incomplete and the score stayed 27-22.
The New Orleans defense was able to hold Carolina to a quick three and out, giving the ball back to McCown with four minutes left and the chance to shine. Despite three drops, two of which were from Marques Colston, the Saints were still able to get all the way down to the Panthers 23 yard line with just over a minute left in the game. On a 3rd and 6, McCown went for it all, but just barely under threw Brandin Cooks, allowing just enough of an opportunity for corner back Josh Norman to make a fantastic leaping interception in the end-zone. With 1:09 left on the clock and just two timeouts, the Saints were still able to get the ball back with 10 seconds left, but the desperation attempt fell short for the second week in a row, as they dropped to 0-3 for the second straight year, falling to the Panthers by the score of 27-22.
- Luke McCown looked pretty good. Sean Payton kept the play calling pretty simple, but no one could have asked McCown to do any more in his first start in four years. His 310 yards is the second highest total of his career and only his second time over 300 yards. His one mistake was the interception that inevitably ended the game, but even that pass wasn’t really bad. It was just a great play by Josh Norman on a ball that was just a tad under thrown.
- Sean Payton’s play calling was at times similar to what the Saints did during some of their best seasons. They used to use the short passing attack as an extension of the running game, but they’ve struggled to do that with consistency in the past few years. They didn’t really throw in the occasional deep shot, but I believe that had a lot to do with the weather.
- Both Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson still had trouble finding much room to run. The offensive line is still struggling to open holes to help this team run the ball with consistency. Jahri Evans missed the game, but it’s not like he’s been that great lately. I can only imagine how disappointed Sean Payton, Pete Carmichael, and even Mickey Loomis must be, considering they spent all off-season taking pieces away from their passing attack to bulk up the run game.
- Brandin Cooks was clutch any time he was called upon. McCown found him quite a few times on the first two drives, then went a while without looking his way much, then started to find him again in the fourth quarter.
- Marques Colston’s season continues to be a roller coaster. After a Week 1 game riddled with drops, he bounced back and made some big catches in Week 2, but struggled Sunday to hold on to the ball again. He dropped two crucial passes on the final full drive when the Saints were attempting to go win the game.
- The pass protection was much better today. McCown was sacked just once, but it was recorded as a no gain, which I honestly still don’t understand. Aside from that, McCown was barely under pressure, so it appeared as if some adjustments were made by guys like Zach Strief to avoid another disaster like last week.
- On the other side of the ball, the front four again struggled to get pressure on Cam Newton. He had all day to throw, which allowed him to find open receivers way down field on numerous occasions. On a few of the rare times they did get pressure, they were unable to get Newton down, aside from one sack by Hau’oli Kikaha.
- Missed tackles have been something that have typically seemed to haunt the Saints defense, but aside from a few here and there, it hadn’t been much of an issue through the first two games. That changed today, as Newton, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert each had multiple touches where they were able to gain yardage after contact. I also felt as if the defense looked lazy around the ball, which allowed for some of that extra yardage. I recall saying “Why is everyone standing around?” a few times, when one or two defenders were trying to make a tackle, while a few other teammates just stood there. Things like that can’t happen when you’re 0-2 and already fighting for your life with your back-up quarterback.
- Much like in Week 1, I really disliked Rob Ryan’s game plan. Against Arizona, it was a lot of soft coverage and playing way off of the ball. This week it was primarily zone defense, which can be dissected by any quarterback in the NFL when he has time to throw. I didn’t understand his decision to play that way for a few reasons. First, because of what I just mentioned about the pass rush. The Saints were able to get a little pressure on Jameis Winston in the fourth quarter of last week’s game, but it’s been far too non-existent overall to trust it. Even if the promise that they showed towards the end of that game is a big part of what he focused his game plan for today on, he simply has to make in-game adjustments once he sees it is not working. The other reason I hated the zone coverage was simply because Carolina has possibly the most under-whelming receiving core in the NFL. What was he afraid of? Ryan’s defense has always been predicated on man defense, which is precisely why he favors big, strong cornerbacks like Brandon Browner. But Ryan had Browner playing off of the ball, even in the rare instances that they did run man coverage and he was lined up against Ted Ginn Jr. Browner is just not fast enough to be able to cover a receiver like Ginn when giving him a ten yard running start. That’s exactly what happened on the deep pass from Newton to Ginn. Ryan stuck with the zone coverage throughout the game and I’m baffled at his lack of ability to make adjustments.
- Luke McCown – 31-38 / 310 yards / 0 TDs / 1 INT / 81.5% completions / 89.7 QB rating / 1 time sacked
- Mark Ingram – 14 carries / 50 yards / 3.6 yards per carry / 1 TD / 5 receptions / 49 yards
- Khiry Robinson – 7 carries / 12 yards / 1.7 yards per carry / 1 TD / 2 receptions / 8 yards
- Brandin Cooks – 7 receptions / 79 yards
- Marques Colston – 4 receptions / 47 yards
- Willie Snead – 5 receptions / 44 yards
- Ben Watson – 4 receptions / 42 yards / 1 fumble lost
- Ramon Humber – 9 tackles
- Kenny Vaccaro – 9 tackles
- David Hawthorne – 8 tackles
- Hau’oli Kikaha – 6 tackles / 1 tackle for loss / 1 sack
- Zach Hocker – 1/1 field goals (31 yards)
- Cam Newton – 20-31 / 315 yards / 2 TDs / 0 INTs / 64.5% completions / 119.7 QB rating / 1 time sacked / 7 carries / 33 yards / 1 rush TD
- Jonathan Stewart – 14 carries / 52 yards / 3.7 yards per carry
- Greg Olsen – 8 receptions / 134 yards / 2 TDs
- Tedd Ginn Jr – 4 receptions / 93 yards
- Mike Tolbert – 3 receptions / 28 yards
- Thomas Davis – 10 tackles / 1 tackle for loss
- A.J. Klein – 10 tackles / 1 tackle for loss
- Shaq Thompson – 7 tackles / 1 sack
- Roman Harper – 5 tackles / 1 fumble recovery
- Josh Norman – 5 tackles / 1 INT
- Graham Gano – 2/2 field goals (20, 47 yards)
- Total yards: Saints-380, Panthers-431
- Pass yards: Saints-310, Panthers-312
- Rush yards: Saints-70, Panthers-119
- 1st downs: Saints-27, Panthers-24
- 3rd down conversions: Saints-7/12, Panthers-5/11
- Red zone TD conversions: Saints-2/3, Panthers-3/4
- Turnovers: Saints-2, Panthers-0
- Points off turnovers: Saints-0, Panthers-3
- Penalties: Saints-8/55, Panthers-10/88
- Possession: Saints-32:44, Panthers-27:16
The 0-3 Saints will return home to welcome the 2-1 Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. The game will be at 7:30 central on Sunday, October 4th. The Cowboys lost their first game of the season by the score of 39-28 to the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, as they played their first full game without starting quarterback Tony Romo. It’s unknown if Drew Brees will be back for this one, so it’s possible that it could be a match-up of back-up quarterbacks on prime time TV with Luke McCown and Brandon Weeden. I’ll be back tomorrow for Saints and Sinners, then we’ll move on to week 4.