Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers for Thursday’s game against New Orleans.
C+ Quarterback: Cam Newton’s up-and-down performance mirrored that of the entire offense. Newton threw a beautiful 40-yard TD pass to Ted Ginn Jr. before halftime and a critical, third-down pass to Kelvin Benjamin late. But he completed fewer than half of his passes and had a 71.8 passer rating.
D Running backs: When the longest run is a 13-yarder by Ginn, your running game has issues. It’s not all the backs’ fault. Jonathan Stewart carried 18 times for 31 yards – a 1.7-yard average. Fullback Mike Tolbert had a 17-yard catch.
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B Receivers: Kelvin Benjamin left the game in the first half with a shoulder injury before returning. Benjamin pulled down a 18-yard pass on third-and-10 that allowed the Panthers to salt the game away. Ginn’s first touchdown catch of the season was a thing of beauty.
D Offensive line: Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil reinjured his right shoulder. With Kalil and backup center Gino Gradkowski (shoulder) both out, the Panthers were forced to turn to No. 3 center Chris Scott. It was another tough game for the line.
B Defensive line: Edge rusher Mario Addison had two of the Panthers’ three sacks (including a strip sack of Drew Brees) before leaving with a right foot injury. DE Kony Ealy had his second sack in as many games, while defensive end Charles Johnson had a tipped pass and a hit on Brees.
A Linebackers: Luke Kuechly had a game-high 14 tackles and a would-be touchdown return on a blocked field goal that was negated by penalty. Thomas Davis added eight tackles, including several big hits. But all of that was overshadowed by Kuechly’s apparent concussion.
B Secondary: Safety Kurt Coleman made a great read and break to intercept Drew Brees in the second quarter in Saints’ territory, setting up the Panthers’ first touchdown. Free safety Tre Boston had a big hit on Brandon Coleman on a deep third-down pass, forcing a punt when the Saints were trying to rally.
B Special teams: Michael Palardy, who replaced an injured Andy Lee this week, dropped his first career punt inside the 10. Palardy averaged 46.7 yards per punt, with a net of 35.7. Graham Gano made all three of his field goal attempts. First-round pick Vernon Butler blocked a FG, but second-rounder James Bradberry had a dumb block in the back that brought back Kuechly’s TD.
B- Coaching: Sean McDermott had a good game plan for Drew Brees, playing coverage and forcing Brees to take underneath throws and check-downs. Brees’ longest completion was 22 yards. Mike Shula made some questionable play calls when the Panthers had two 1st-and-goals on their first possession, and got conservative in the second half.