Saints clear significant hurdle in victory over Panthers
The New Orleans Saints escaped Charlotte with a 20-17 victory against the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football.
It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t always clean. And it wasn’t decided until D’Marco Jackson recovered an onside kick with 1:15 left and Taysom Hill ran 11 yards for a first down that enabled the Saints to run out the clock.
But it was significant.
It was significant not only because New Orleans is 2-0 for the first time since 2013 but also because the Saints prevailed in a place where their last two seasons were knocked off track in the last two Septembers.
The last two seasons began in a reasonably positive manner before a trip to Charlotte injected significant negativity into ultimately unsatisfactory finishes.
On Monday, the Saints experienced a similar challenge to that which they couldn’t handle in a 22-14 loss at Carolina in Week 3 of last season nor in a 26-7 loss at Carolina in Week 2 in 2021.
But this time New Orleans was up to the challenge. It was inconsistent but efficient when necessary on offense and mostly dominant on defense.
The early-season failures in Charlotte the last two seasons exposed weaknesses that contributed to consecutive absences from the playoffs. It’s far too early project what this outcome might mean to this team’s post-seasons aspirations, but it certainly is more encouraging than the last two trips to North Carolina.
Last season the Saints’ turnovers, penalties missed tackles and other self-inflicted wounds enabled the Panthers to end an NFL-worst nine-game losing streak dating to the previous season.
In 2021 the Saints were coming off the most-impressive opening-week performance in the NFL – a 38-3 rout of Green Bay in a home game in Jacksonville, Florida, necessitated by a month-long displacement due to Hurricane Ida.
They arrived in Charlotte without a bunch of injured players and a bunch of coaches who didn’t make the trip because of COVID protocols and left with a 26-7 loss.
The primary element that the Saints victory Monday night shared with the last two trips to Charlotte was New Orleans’ inability to slow down the Carolina pass rush.
But the intolerable pressure that Jameis Winston faced in 2021 and 2022 was replaced by the barely manageable pressure that Dereak Carr faced Monday night.
Even when Carr had adequate or nearly adequate time his accuracy was inadequate. The passing game had multiple issues.
But in a development that was reminiscent of the 16-15 home victory against Tennessee the passing game was it its best when it was most-needed to ensure victory.
“Thankfully our defense kept us in it,” Carr said afterward.
In the end the Saints set a franchise record with their 10th straight game of allowing 20 or fewer points.
For the second consecutive week the defense made things relatively easy for the offense.
The Saints kept Tennessee out of the end zone in a 16-15 victory in the season opener in the Caesars Superdome eight days earlier, and they didn’t allow the Panthers and No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Young into the end zone until the final two minutes Monday.
Tony Jones Jr. took on an expanded work load with Alvin Kamara serving the second game of a three-game suspension and Jamaal Williams sidelined by a hamstring injury and rushed for his first two NFL touchdowns
The Saints have 15 more games to play. This 2-0 start is nice but not necessarily predictive of where they will wind up.
But given how the early-season outcomes in Carolina were consistent with the season-long performance, this outcome is encouraging.
- < PREV Saints battle past Panthers for 20-17 win
- NEXT > Volleyball: Riverside wins third straight; MCA, AOL, Ben Franklin win
CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian
Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…