After last Sunday’s game against the Bills, when Carolina only allowed three points and largely stifled Buffalo’s offense, defensive end Julius Peppers said this year’s defense might be the best he’s played on in his 16 years in the NFL.
Then the Panthers went out and allowed a mountain of points to the New Orleans Saints a week later in a 34-13 loss. So, how do Peppers’ comments hold up in hindsight?
According to the team that scored all those times, still pretty well.
“Definitely a great defense still,” Saints running back Adrian Peterson said. “Probably the best duo at the linebacker position when you talk about (Thomas) Davis and (Luke) Kuechly.”
Coming into their matchup with New Orleans, the Panthers had only allowed 120 rushing yards all season. The Saints single-handedly bested that number Sunday, running for 149 yards on 27 carries. Mark Ingram had the majority of those (56), followed by Alvin Kamara (37) and Peterson (33).
“They have a great defense and I respect that,” Ingram said. “Those guys have one of the best defenses in the NFL. It was more about us than it was about them.”
Perhaps, but the Carolina defense did itself no favors either. On New Orleans’ first offensive possession alone, receiver Michael Thomas had five catches for 50 yards and a score.
“When we watched them on film, we knew what we were going up against,” Thomas said. “They’re a stingy defense, don’t allow points.”
At least for one week though, the Saints proved to be the exception to that idea.
Ted Ginn’s Carolina homecoming
The last time Ted Ginn Jr. scored at Bank of America Stadium, it was for the Carolina Panthers, not against them.
In fact, the last two touchdowns Ginn scored in this stadium were under almost identical circumstances. Both were 40-yard bombs to the same end zone. Both times he burned the secondary down the middle of the field. And in both games, Ginn came out with a ‘W’.
The only real difference in the two games was that Ginn just switched jerseys.
Last November, his touchdown helped Carolina sneak out a 23-20 win over New Orleans. On Sunday, his score only added to the Saints’ 34-13 trampling of the Panthers.
“It felt great,” Ginn said of scoring against his former team. “Coming back to my stomping ground that I’ve known for so many years, to get a win felt great.”
Ginn played three of his 11 years in the NFL for Carolina, including last season when he caught 54 passes for 752 yards and four touchdowns. This offseason, he signed with Carolina’s divisional rival as a free agent.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, who watched Ginn’s touchdown last season, said after the game he was glad to finally have the speedster on his side.
“Man it was great,” Brees said. “Ted’s been a great addition ... he’s very versatile.”
Remember Newton the MVP, Saints say
Cam Newton was rusty in Carolina’s first two games, and he did nothing to change that narrative by tossing three interceptions in Sunday’s loss.
Much of that criticism has been linked to Newton’s offseason shoulder surgery and the limited time he had before the season to get into a rhythm with his offensive counterparts. Newton of course has a history of quarterbacking excellence, no example more obvious than in 2015 when he led Carolina to the Super Bowl and won MVP honors along the way.
But after a third consecutive lukewarm performance, a different question began to present itself Sunday: Can Newton regain the form that once made him so dominant.
His teammates have been adamant in supporting Newton, but even in the wake of his Sunday nightmare (Newton finished with the third-worst passer rating of his career), one of the men who picked him off is still in Newton’s corner.
“Obviously you’ve seen the weeks prior and he’s had some errant throws, but you’ve gotta remember two years ago Cam’s the MVP. He’s a dynamic player,” Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “People can say what they want. He’s gonna bounce back. I’m not gonna sit here and dog Cam Newton. He’s a superstar – let’s not forget his legs, the way he extends plays.”
Another Saints defender, defensive end Cameron Jordan, was more outspoken about his defense’s ability to prey on Newton’s still-rehabbing arm strength.
“My young dogs were eating,” Jordan said. “Kenny Vaccaro, pick. Marcus Williams, pick. P.J. Williams, pick.
“My defense was balling.”
‘I appreciate him messing up’
When offensive tackle Matt Kalil was signed by the Carolina Panthers as a free agent, he was brought in foremost to protect quarterback Cam Newton.
But that wasn’t the case Sunday during Carolina’s 34-13 loss to New Orleans. Instead, Kalil was a weak link on the offensive line, including a sack deep in Panthers territory where he confused his blocking assignment.
“Mental error on my part. I thought the slide was one way and I went the wrong way, so that's not good,” Kalil said of the play in question. “That's just stupid by me. That's got to get fixed.”
While Kalil owned up to his mistake in one locker room, the mood in the visiting locker room about the same play was drastically different – especially from the man who took advantage of Kalil on the play, defensive end Cameron Jordan.
“We’ve played the Vikings before. He’s just a guy,” Jordan said of Kalil. “I appreciate him messing up his blocking scheme and allowing me to come free for a sack. A hundred percent appreciate the other Kalil brother.”
Kalil’s older brother Ryan is normally Carolina’s starting center, but he has missed the last two games with neck issues.