Here’s what the Carolina Panthers know now about New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees: He’s not Brian Hoyer or Tyrod Taylor.
After shutting down the San Francisco 49ers (and Hoyer) and Buffalo Bills (and Taylor) on just a field goal each, the Panthers were routed by the Saints 34-13 on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
Carolina’s 2-0 start against the 49ers and Bills was built on what defensive end Julius Peppers called the best unit he’s been a part of in his 16-year career. But that was before that defense faced Brees, who is in his 17th season.
Brees finished 22 of 29 for 220 yards and three touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception.
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When he found Michael Thomas for a 5-yard touchdown with 22 seconds to play in the first quarter it gave the Saints a 7-3 lead. Thomas had five catches for 50 yards on the drive, the first to produce a touchdown against the Panthers (2-1) in 2017.
That was only the beginning.
Two series later, Newton was intercepted on a pass intended for Devin Funchess. Four plays after that, Brees found Brandon Coleman for an 11-yard touchdown with 5:42 to play in the first half.
And in the third quarter, two-time former Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from Brees, making it 24-6.
Cam Newton’s 3-yard touchdown run cut the New Orleans lead to 24-13. It was Carolina’s first touchdown in more than 130 minutes of game play.
A Wil Lutz field goal and 25-yard touchdown run by Alvin Kamara made that academic, increasing the lead to 34-13 with 3:42 to play.
Three who mattered
Drew Brees: Despite the Saints 0-2 start, he was averaging more than 300 passing yards per game and had a rating of 102.0 coming in. He did little to hurt those stats on Sunday.
Cam Newton: Newton, whose “new normal” includes limited practice repetitions – and thus limited time to sharpen his timing with his receivers – finished 17 of 26 for 167 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Most of his misses, and two of the three interceptions, came on plays where that timing was off.
Graham Gano: Field goals of 32 and 50 and a successful extra point left Gano perfect on the season – proving once again that competition, even from a rookie in training camp, is good.
▪ Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly dropped a twisting interception reminiscent of his pick six against the 49ers in the third quarter, and was demonstrably frustrated.
▪ Newton’s “new normal” of limited repetitions during the week seemed to play out in a lack of timing. Newton was six of 10, but for only 2.1 yards per attempt, in the first half. Everything down the field was off target.
▪ Ted Ginn Jr. didn’t drop a 40-yard touchdown pass from Brees in the third quarter that gave New Orleans a 24-6 lead.
▪ The Panthers bogged down in the red zone on the opening drive, settling for a 32-yard field goal by Gano after Newton was sacked on third and 3. Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan beat Panthers left tackle Matt Kalil on the play.
▪ One of the biggest cheers of the day came when Christian McCaffrey gained 37 yards on a pass from Newton – then got up and continued running when officials didn’t blow the play dead. It came back to the 35.
▪ Derek Anderson entered at quarterback for the Panthers with 4:30 to play. Nothing he did series suggested a quarterback controversy, however. And Ron Rivera said in his news conference the move was “self-preservation mode” for Newton’s shoulder.
▪ Wil Lutz made a 33-yard field goal on the final play of the first half for a 17-6 Saints lead. He later made a 50-yarder that gave the Saints a 14-point lead with 11:57 to play. Lutz missed a 56-yarder that could have put the game away with 8:57 to play, but the Panthers couldn’t take advantage.
▪ With 7:08 to play in the third quarter the Panthers disdained a 53-yard field goal attempt by Gano in favor of a Michael Palardy punt. Palardy kicked it into the end zone on the fly for a touchdback and a net of 15.
▪ Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin left with an injury to his left knee after being tackled awkwardly, and linebacker Thomas Davis left with a rib injury. Davis returned, Benjamin didn’t.
▪ Four of Kuechly’s eight tackles came after Saints gains of at least 10 yards.
▪ McCaffrey had his first 100-yard receiving game as a Panther, with nine catches on 11 targets for 101 yards.
They said it
“You drive down there and you end up kicking a field goal, that’s your fault.” – Rivera, on the Panthers’ opening drive (and missed opportunities in general).
“When you take away a guy like (injured tight end Greg) Olsen and then you take away a guy like Benjamin, it becomes challenging in the offense you are used to running.” – Saints coach Sean Payton, on Newton’s performance.
“One thing we didn’t do is play smart. When you don’t play smart, things like that will happen.” – Panthers defensive end Mario Addison, on the defense’s problems.