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New Orleans Saints 31, Carolina Panthers 13

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Panthers report card 12.08.13

Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Saints.

C+ QUARTERBACK : Cam Newton had the Panthers’ longest play of the game – a 19-yard scramble. Newton was just off on a couple of deep throws and couldn’t connect with tight end Greg Olsen in the end zone.

B- RUNNING BACKS : DeAngelo Williams ran hard, averaging 4.5 yards per carry in the first half as the Panthers tried to establish the running game. Jonathan Stewart got some work early in the second half, and gained 16 yards on successive plays before leaving with a knee injury.

C RECEIVERS : Steve Smith caught all four first-half passes thrown to him (19 yards). That was the story for much of the game for the Panthers, who couldn’t work free deep against the Saints’ secondary. When they did, Newton was either under pressure or overthrowing them. Or both.

D OFFENSIVE LINE : The Panthers allowed Newton to be sacked five times. The line had an especially hard time against the Saints’ blitz in the second half when New Orleans knew the Panthers had to pass to try to catch up.

D DEFENSIVE LINE : The front four failed to generate much pressure on Drew Brees in the first half, allowing Brees to heat up and fire three second-quarter touchdown passes. Backup defensive end Mario Addison had the only first-half sack on Brees. Defensive end Charles Johnson looked less than 100percent after missing two games with a sprained knee.

C LINEBACKERS : Thomas Davis played hard, making tackles and blowing up blocks. Luke Kuechly continues to struggle in coverage. Brees completed a lot of passes between Kuechly and the safeties, and Kuechly was a step behind on tight end Jimmy Graham’s 5-yard touchdown catch in the first half.

F DEFENSIVE BACKS : Free safety Mike Mitchell had a rough first half. He whiffed on an open-field tackle attempt on a 38-yard run by Darren Sproles on the Saints’ first touchdown drive. But the entire Legion of Whom struggled, getting exposed by Brees.

C SPECIAL TEAMS : Ted Ginn Jr. had a 32-yard punt return (plus a facemask penalty on punter Thomas Morstead) to set up a Graham Gano field goal. Gano made two first-half field goals before pushing a 49-yard attempt right in the second half.

D COACHING : Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott waited until the second half to start dialing up more blitzes on Brees, and by then it was too late. Mike Shula had a good gameplan to try to neutralize Brees and the crowd. But he took too few shots downfield.

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