Short-handed Saints manhandled by Panthers

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I did not see last week coming, not by a long shot.

This time around, I could see it coming. Perhaps you could as well.

The New Orleans Saints were without Kwon Alexander, Marshon Lattimore, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Marcus Davenport, Tanoh Kpassagnon, David Onyemata, and Erik McCoy and Wil Lutz. They were already without Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith.

Then, the Saints were without eight assistant coaches, including offensive analyst Jim Chaney, assistant Declan Doyle, senior assistant Curtis Johnson, tight ends coach Dan Roushar, running backs coach Joel Thomas, defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen, pass rush specialist Brian Young and special teams coach Phil Galiano.

The Saints had won four straight games against Carolina and 10 straight NFC South contests.

Both streaks ended and ended in a big way Sunday in Charlotte.

The depleted Saints were beaten in every aspect of the game.

The Panthers dominated up front on both sides of the ball.

New Orleans could not stop the pass and could not run or pass the football.

The final margin of victory could easily have been much worse.

It was a physical beating administered by the Panthers to the Saints.

Here are my Quick Takes on the 26-7 win for Carolina over New Orleans:

**The Panthers took the opening kickoff and promptly took the lead, driving 75 yards in five plays, taking three minutes to do so with Sam Darnold hitting a wide- open Brandon Zylstra on a 20-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-0 with 12 minutes left in the opening quarter. On the play, Marcus Williams vacated his deep safety area, leaving Zylstra open.

**Darnold was 3-for-3 for 72 yards on the drive, including a 36-yard completion to Christian McCaffrey.

**On the first Saints possession, New Orleans got a break on a questionable roughing the passer call against Jameis Winston.

**The drive died when Winston was sacked as Adam Trautman missed a block and then Terron Armstead and Calvin Throckmorton committed consecutive false start penalties.

**First-round pick Payton Turner was called on to play with Davenport and Kpassagnon out and Turner was flagged for roughing the passer on Carolina’s second possession.

**Carolina finished the first quarter with 159 yards to just 15 for the Saints. The Panthers had the ball for 11:16 to just 3:44 for New Orleans. The Panthers had eight first downs to just one for the Saints.

**The Panthers continued to dominate, driving 64 yards in 15 plays and milking 8:57 off the clock but the drive stalled at the New Orleans 2-yard line and Zane Gonzalez booted a 20-yard field goal to give the Panthers a 10-0 lead with 11:11 to play in the half.

**Things only got worse for the Saints as Carolina drove 10 plays, 72 yards, taking 5:30 off the clock with Darnold hitting D.J. Moore on a 2-yard touchdown pass to make it 17-0 with 1:55 to play in the half.

**The Saints finally made a play as Winston connected with Lil’Jordan Humphrey on a 27-yard pass to the Carolina 37.

**Too much pressure on Winston trying to pass resulted in consecutive incomplete passes before Winston reverted to his Tampa Bay form.

**Under a bit of pressure, Winston simply threw one deep down the field, right to Juston Burris for an easy interception. Had Winston simply thrown it away, Aldrick Rosas, who has a very strong leg, would have had a shot at a 54 or 55-yard field goal.

**How dominant was Carolina in the first half? The Panthers had 274 yards to just 65 for the Saints. New Orleans had four yards rushing and Carolina had the ball for 20:55 to just 9:05 for the Saints. The Panthers had 38 offensive snaps to just 17 for the Saints.

**Darnold was 16-of-20 for 206 yards and two touchdowns in the half.

**The Saints got the ball first in the second half and picked up where they left off, going three-and-out.

**Carolina had a drive stalled by Bradley Roby, who sacked Darnold.

**Then, Carl Granderson blocked a Gonzalez field goal attempt and Zack Baun returned it to the Carolina 38-yard line.

**Of course, the Saints did nothing with it.

**Then, the defense came up with a big play as PJ Williams blitzed and hit Darnold. Malcolm Roach recovered the resulting loose ball at the Carolina 18-yard line.

**The Saints reached the 1-yard line but on second-and-goal, a toss sweep to Alvin Kamara was called and he lost seven yards.

**On third, and-goal, Winston stepped up and ran it in on a called pass play, scoring on an eight-yard run to make it 17-7 with 14:37 to play in the game.

**Carolina finished it off with a 42-yard field goal with 3:26 remaining to account for the final margin of victory.

**Winston threw a second interception late in the game on another very ill-advised throw, off-balance into the arms of Jaycee Horn, an ironic, fitting ending as the son of Saints Hall of Fame inductee Joe Horn made the play. Remember, the Saints were rumored to be interested in trading up in the 2021 draft for Horn.

Darnold finished 26-of-38 for 305 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

It was the first 300-yard passing game by Darnold since 2019.

In his first game in the NFL, first-round pick Payton Turner incurred two penalties, one for roughing the passer and the other for jumping in the neutral zone (a poor call). To his credit, he came back with a tackle for loss followed by a sack on the same series in the fourth quarter.

Winston was sacked four times and was under pressure throughout. He had no run game and little pass protection.

Still, his decision-making was shaky.

On one play, he hesitated to take off and run when the field was wide open.

On another, under intense pressure, Winston tried to force the ball forward. Initially, it was ruled a fumble but correctly overturned by replay.

Both interceptions were awful throws under pressure.

Winston finished 11-of-22 for just 111 yards with two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 26.9.

How bad was the New Orleans offense?

Try 129 total yards and seven points.

The seven points scored were the fewest since a 24-6 loss at Houston in 2016.

The seven points scored tied the second fewest points scored by the Saints under Sean Payton since he took over the team in 2006.

New Orleans scored seven points in a 34-7 loss at Seattle in 2013 and in a 30-7 loss at Carolina in 2008.

The Saints scored nine points twice in the 2019 season.

The 176 yards were the fewest since a 13-10 loss at Dallas on Nov. 29, 2018 when the Saints were also held to 176 total yards.

Carolina converted 8-of-15 third down attempts while New Orleans was just 2-of-11.

On the bright side, Blake Gillikin was excellent, punting his first effort downed at the Carolina 7-yard line before nailing a 60-yarder on his second punt. Gillikin averaged 49 yards on six punts. Deonte Harris averaged 31.2 yards on five kickoff returns.

The Saints head to New England next week.

How many, if any players will return?

How many coaches will return?

Reinforcements are certainly wanted, needed.

The Saints are 1-1, perhaps where most expected them to be, at this point.

The NFL is a cruel business.

On this day, it stood for “No Fun Lately” for the Saints and their rabid fan-base.

The challenge is truly week-to-week.

While excuses are for losers, the Saints had a ton of excuses Sunday and get a mulligan, at least for this week, due to the amazing number of players and coaches missing. The losses before the game clearly led to the loss.

The Panthers, an improved team, took total advantage as a solid team is supposed to do.

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Ken Trahan

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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