Grading the Carolina Panthers for Sunday’s game against New Orleans.
F Quarterback: Cam Newton has a sore shoulder and was missing his center, top tight end and (for most of the game) his No. 1 receiver. That’s no excuse for the telegraphed passes Newton was making on his way to the third-worst passer rating of his career.
B Running backs: Jonathan Stewart had 11 carries for 51 yards in the first half, but the Panthers had to get away from their running game down big in the second half. Christian McCaffrey had the first 100-yard receiving game of his career, highlighted by a 37-yard pick-up.
D Receivers: After Kelvin Benjamin went down with a knee injury in the first half, the Panthers didn’t have any receivers step up. Some of that was on Newton, but this group just does not gain a lot of separation. Ed Dickson, Greg Olsen’s fill-in, had one catch for 8 yards.
D Offensive line: Left tackle Matt Kalil gave up at least two sacks, including a momentum-killing play to Cam Jordan that forced the Panthers to settle for a field goal on their first drive. For the money they’re paying him, Kalil has to play better.
D Defensive line: Edge rusher Julius Peppers, who had two sacks last week vs. Buffalo, did not record a defensive statistic. Charles Johnson didn’t fare much better, finishing with two assisted tackles. Mario Addison had the only sack on Drew Brees.
C Linebackers: Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson combined for 22 tackles, but didn’t make any game-changing plays. Kuechly dropped an easy interception, while Thompson failed to get to Brees on a couple of blitzes. Davis returned after missing time with a rib injury.
D Secondary: The secondary never solved Michael Thomas, who kept finding holes in the soft zone coverage. James Bradberry let Ted Ginn Jr. get behind him for a 40-yard touchdown pass, while Daryl Worley struggled in coverage most of the day.
B-minus Special teams: Graham Gano improved to 8-for-8 on field goals with two more, including a long of 48 yards. Michael Palardy drilled a 56-yard punt, but he also failed to bury the Saints in their own territory when Ron Rivera inexplicably opted to punt from the Saints’ 35 midway through the third quarter.
F Coaching: Rivera said he didn’t want to give the Saints any additional momentum when he chose to punt rather than go for it or have Gano try a 53-yarder. But the Panthers were down 18, and needed a shot of confidence. Also of note: Rivera wondering aloud whether the defensive calls were predictable.