The Carolina Panthers can’t get Luke Kuechly back soon enough. You know it. They know it. Kuechly’s absence was really magnified Sunday when New Orleans decided to throw in front of the linebackers and defensive backs over and over, to the tune of Luke McCown completing 31 of 38 passes for 310 yards. My guess is that Kuechly – who has missed the last 2 1/2 games because of a concussion – will return Sunday at Tampa Bay.
▪ Given that this New Orleans team didn’t have three of their primary Panthers nemeses of years past – Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles – giving up 310 yards passing to the Saints is really uncalled for. You have to think Kuechly could have shut some of that down, although certainly not all of it. The Panthers’ secondary looked slow to the ball to me on a number of occasions.
▪ It was a fine day for the McCown family in one respect – Luke started for New Orleans and Josh, the former Panther, started at quarterback for Cleveland. Both of them threw for more than 300 yards. It was a bad day in another: Both McCown brothers lost and both threw very late interceptions to snuff out their team’s final chance in close games.
▪ As high-maintenance as Steve Smith was, it sure would be nice to have his production on the Panthers right now. Philly Brown started the game for Carolina and didn’t catch a pass. Brown has 70 total receiving yards in three games – that’s way, way below average for a starting NFL wideout. Smith, on the other hand, had 13 catches for 186 yards Sunday for Baltimore (although the Ravens are now 0-3).
▪ Talk about a dink-and-dunk offense: Of McCown’s 31 completions, not a single one went for more than 23 yards. But the Panthers are obviously susceptible to those kinds of throws, and the Panthers’ pass rush Sunday was very pedestrian. Charles Johnson’s leg injury also looks quite serious.
▪ The Panthers’ Teddy Williams had what really worked out as a 91-yard penalty. As a gunner on the punt coverage team, Williams didn’t get back inbounds quickly enough – a 15-yard penalty and a critical error – on a punt in which the Panthers had New Orleans pinned at the 9.
Instead, Brad Nortman had to punt again, the Panthers covered it badly, Marcus Murphy made a couple of slick moves and suddenly he had scored. Instead of the Saints being pinned at their 9, Murphy was celebrating a 74-yard punt return TD in the other end zone.