Monday Night Football: Saints vs Panthers
The Carolina Panthers were hoping to have a big home opener at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. After losing to the Atlanta Falcons, last Sunday, the Panthers were hoping to avoid an 0-2 start, especially since they were playing another NFC South opponent…the New Orleans Saints. Unfortunately, the Saints came marching in, then went marching out with a victory.
In the first quarter, the Saints earned a 1st down, when (quarterback) Derek Carr completed a 6-yard pass to (wide receiver) Michael Thomas on a 3rd & 2 play. However, the next time the Saints found themselves on a 3rd down play, (Panthers linebacker) Frankie Luvu sacked Carr for a loss of 7 yards. After the Saints punted, the Panthers made it into Saints territory on their first possession, but a false start against (offensive lineman) Chandler Zavala would prove costly against Carolina’s progress.
The Panthers found themselves with a 3rd & 15 on the 44-yard line of New Orleans, but (quarterback) Bryce Young could only complete a 10-yard pass to (wide receiver) Adam Thielen. The Panthers would score the first points of the game, as (kicker) Eddy Piñeiro made a 52-yard field goal. The Saints spent nearly the remainder of the quarter driving into Carolina’s red zone.
They got as far as the 8-yard line, after Carr completed a 1st down pass to (tight end) Foster Moreau. After a run of -2 yards by (running back) Jamaal Williams & a Carr incomplete pass, the Saints had to settle for a 28-yard field goal from (kicker) Blake Grupe to tie the game.
After an early punt by the Panthers in the second quarter, the Saints had a drive that lasted just over 4 minutes. On a 3rd & 9 from Carolina’s 23-yard line, Carr completed a 19-yard pass to Thomas to set up 1st & goal from the 4-yard line. However, that was as far as the Saints got, as (quarterback) Taysom Hill lost a yard on the 1st down running play. After 2 incompletions from Carr, Grupe kicked a 23-yard field goal to give the Saints a lead.
After trading punts, both teams would trade turnovers. Late in the quarter, Carr was intercepted by (Panthers safety) Vonn Bell, which set the Panthers up with a short field. After Young completed a 15-yard pass to Thielen, (running back) Miles Sanders got the Panthers into the red zone of the Saints for the first time in the game, as he ran for 4 yards to the 18-yard line. However, 2 plays later, Young fumbled the ball, after he was sacked by (Saints defensive lineman) Carl Granderson. The Saints prevented the Panthers from tying the game, thanks to (cornerback) Paulson Adebo recovering the fumble.
The Saints tried to add to their lead before the half expired, but after they got to Carolina’s 46-yard line, Carr was sacked twice in 3 plays and the Saints were forced to punt. The Panthers were on their 19-yard line with 28 seconds & 1 timeout left in the first half. Instead of taking a shot down the field, Sanders just ran for 3 yards & the Saints took a 6-3 lead into halftime.
In the third quarter, both teams traded punts on their opening possession of the second half. However, the Saints had to avoid disaster, since they were starting from their 3-yard line & only gained 3 yards. The Panthers would enter Saints territory on the punt return, but their offense would stall, again. On a 3rd down run, Young was initially given a 1st down, but the Saints challenged that he was down before he got to the spot of the 1st down.
A replay confirmed Young was short & the Panthers were going to go for it, until (offensive lineman) Cade Mays was called for a flase start. Piñeiro made a 54-yard field goal to tie the game. On the next possession, the Saints would take over 6 minutes to regain the lead. After a 3-yard pass from Carr to (wide receiver) Chris Olave, the Saints were penalized when (tight end) Jimmy Graham was called for holding. That penalty was wiped out thanks to (Panthers linebacker) Brian Burns getting called for a neutral zone infraction, then (Saints running back) Tony Jones Jr. having a 5-yard run.
With a 3rd & 7 on their 28-yard line, the Saints finally had a big play, as Carr completed a 42-yard pass to Olave. The remainder of the drive consisted of runs from Jones Jr. and Carr & Hill completing passes to (tight end) Juwan Johnson. Jones Jr. (who was a practice squad member on week 1) would score on a 2-yard touchdown run, then Grupe would make the extra point. After the Panthers went 3 out, in large part to Young being sacked for a 6-yard loss, the Saints ended the quarter with Carr completing a 21-yard pass to Olave.
In the fourth quarter, after an incomplete pass from Carr, Hill demonstrated why he is “The Human Swiss Army Knife”, as he ran for 11 yards & a 1st down at midfield. After Jones Jr. & Hill combined for 8 yards on the next 2 runs, Carr was sacked for a 7-yard loss, forcing the Saints to punt. Thanks to some strong runs from Sanders & Young and a pass interference call against Adebo, the Panthers finally returned to the red zone of the Saints. After Young completed a 7-yard pass to (tight end) Hayden Hurst, the Panthers would get no further than the 13-yard line, as Sanders was stopped for no gain, then Young was sacked for a 5-yard loss.
After a drive that took over 7 minutes, Piñeiro would make his 3rd field goal of the game, this one being 36 yards long. With less than 5 1/2 minutes, the Saints were trying to preserve their lead, although things looked shaky, thanks to a -1 yard pass from Carr to Hill. However, the Saints would head the correct direction on the next 2 plays, as Carr completed a 45-yard pass to (wide receiver) Rashid Shaheed & Hill ran for 19 yards. The Saints thought Olave scored a touchdown a 16-yard catch & run, but he was actually shoved out of bounds at Carolina’s 7-yard line.
However, Hill would earn a 1st down on a 5-yard run, then Jones Jr. would get the rest for his 2nd touchdown of the day. Grupe would make his 2nd extra point to give the Saints an 11-point lead with just over 3 minutes remaining in regulation. The Panthers took less than 2 minutes to trim that lead. Young was in pass mode early, but on a 4th & 2 on their own 46-yard line, the Panthers turned to (running back) Chuba Hubbard, who ran for 14 yards. Young took over the remaining 40 yards, completing passes to Hurst for 9 yards, Hubbard for 6, & (wide receiver) Jonathan Mingo for 22, before completing a 3-yard touchdown pass to Thielen. Young would also complete a 2-point conversion pass to Thielen.
The Panthers turned to (punter) Johnny Hekker for an onside kick. However, (Saints linebacker) D’Marco Jackson was able to get the ball. The Saints had 1 minute & 15 seconds to at least protect the ball and earn a 1st down. They would earn that 1st down, when Hill ran for 11 yards. The Panthers hopelessly used their final timeout, before the Saints kneeled down & marched out of Charlotte with a 20-17 victory.
Young completed 22 out of 33 passes for 153 yards & a touchdown, as well as had 2 runs for 34 yards. However, he did get sacked 4 times, including Granderson’s sack-fumble. The Panthers only had 100 yards rushing, with Sanders having 43 of them on 14 runs. Thielen led the team in receiving with 7 catches for 54 yards & a touchdown. On the defensive side, besides Bell’s interception, the Panthers had 4 sacks of their own, all from linebackers.
Luvu had 2, Kamu Grugier-Hill had 1, and Justin Houston & Yetur Gross-Matos each had 1/2 sack. Next week, the Panthers visit Seattle to play the Seahawks (who had a 37-31 overtime victory over the Detroit Lions). We may only have completed 2 weeks of the season, but with the Panthers at 0-2 and the rest of the NFC South at 2-0 (Atlanta Falcons defeated Green Bay Packers; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated Chicago Bears), Carolina is already finding itself in must-win territory.