New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is expert at quick-strike, low-risk passes good for first downs.
Sunday’s display in the Superdome went far beyond efficiency. The Carolina Panthers’ pass rush was ineffectual, allowing Brees to pick apart a young secondary for 465 passing yards and four touchdowns. The Panthers fell to 1-5 with this 41-38 defeat.
Brees drove the Saints into field goal range on their final possession. Brandin Cooks caught a 6-yard pass to set up New Orleans kicker Wil Lutz with a 52-yard field goal that crossed through the goal post with 11 seconds remaining.
It was rookie Lutz’s first game-winning field goal in the NFL. He’d badly missed a 53-yard attempt earlier in the game.
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“I had a short game-winner in college (at Georgia State) and a couple of game-tiers. But obviously that was the biggest kick of my life,” said Lutz.
Brees found tight end Josh Hill in the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown with just over six minutes left. Hill was originally ruled out of bounds on that play, but a review confirmed he got both feet inbounds with control of the ball.
The Panthers, who once trailed 21-0, fought back to 31-30 in the fourth quarter, only to see Graham Gano’s extra-point kick go wide.
Trailing by eight with about three minutes left, the Panthers caught a break when Saints cornerback Brian Dixon was called for pass interference in the end zone, while defending Devin Funchess. Cam Newton faked a handoff to Jonathan Stewart and swept right, leaping into the end zone for the score.
That set up a two-point conversion try. Newton threw to Funchess in the corner of the end zone to tie the game with 2 minutes, 58 seconds left.
Three who mattered
Brees: His halftime passing stats – 18-of-26 for 258 yards and two touchdowns – would be a solid game for plenty of NFL quarterbacks.
Cooks: He crossed 100 yards receiving before halftime, scorching the Panthers’ secondary for an 87-yard gain.
Jonathan Stewart: Coming off a hamstring injury, he carried the Panthers’ running game on a day when running Newton much probably wouldn’t have been wise, considering his recent concussion.
▪ With Stewart back on the active roster, the Panthers chose not to activate Cameron Artis-Payne. Fozzy Whittaker’s versatility as a third-down pass-catcher might have played into that decision.
▪ Two penalties – offside and a roughing-the-passer – pushed the Panthers backward on the Saints’ first drive for a touchdown. Kyle Love’s low hit on Brees was particularly costly, giving the Saints a first down.
▪ Rookie cornerback Zack Sanchez is really struggling, dealing with double moves by wide receivers. He was burned big-time by Brandin Cooks first quarter on that long touchdown.
▪ The Panthers converted just one of their first nine third downs against a shaky Saints defense.
▪ Those two fourth-down conversions by the Panthers for the third-quarter touchdown felt like a “what’s there to lose?’ more than Riverboat Ron.
▪ Newton took several big hits in the third quarter while trying to extend passing plays. He was coming off concussion protocol.
▪ Panthers rookie cornerback Daryl Worley left the game in the fourth quarter with a concussion.
▪ Gutsy call on the Ted Ginn Jr. pass to Brenton Bursin early in the fourth quarter. It led to a pass interference call that set up Stewart’s touchdown run.
They said it
“We’ll see. We have to look at his body of work, not just recent results.” – Panthers coach Ron Rivera, on kicker Graham Gano.
“They did exploit some of our young guys, but you’re talking about a Hall of Fame quarterback.” – Rivera, on the performance of his defensive backs.
“I thought he did great. We scored 38 points. We should’ve had 50.” – Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, on Newton’s return to the lineup.