Ten quick thoughts on the Carolina Panthers’ 34-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints:
1. Julius Peppers makes a statement
Most Carolina Panthers players did not demonstrate as many players around the NFL did during Sunday’s national anthem, but veteran defensive end Julius Peppers did not come out onto the field until the anthem was over.
About a dozen New Orleans players either knelt or sat on the bench during the anthem, including veteran running back Adrian Peterson.
2. McCaffrey, Stewart tandem hums early, but drive fails
For a second consecutive week, Carolina was in a great rhythm moving downfield on its opening drive. The team ran 15 plays, and 12 touches went to either running back Christian McCaffrey or Jonathan Stewart.
But quarterback Cam Newton was sacked by Cam Jordan on third down for a 6-yard loss. Jordan switched ends on the play and easily blew past left tackle Matt Kalil to get to Newton, and the Panthers had to bring Graham Gano out for a field goal.
For the sixth time in seven tries, Carolina did not get a red-zone touchdown.
In the second quarter, the Panthers had to settle for another field goal, wasting a huge Curtis Samuel end-around gain.
3. Brees wanted blood
Settling for the early field goal is never ideal against a quarterback of Drew Brees’ caliber.
Brees picked apart Carolina’s defense on the Saints’ first drive, connecting with receiver Michael Thomas for five passes, including a touchdown, to grab an early lead over the Panthers. Thomas found lots of room underneath, with cornerbacks Bradberry and Worley playing with a bit of bubble – perhaps to gauge Brees’ effectiveness with deep threat Ted Ginn Jr. early.
4. McCaffrey, Newton, Funchess provide a spark
After looking lost on offense through most of the first three quarters, Newton, McCaffrey and receiver Devin Fuchess put together a slick little six-play scoring drive that was highlighted by a huge 37-yard catch from McCaffrey and followed up by a 21-yard catch by Funchess.
Newton kept the ball for a 3-yard rumble into the end zone.
McCaffrey broke 100 yards receiving midway through the fourth quarter, with nine catches on 11 targets and 101 yards.
5. Broadcasting the pick
Newton could not look off corner P.J. Williams on a slant route directed toward Devin Funchess. Williams was able to jump the route and intercept Newton to give New Orleans excellent field position on the Carolina 24-yard line. The Saints scored four plays later.
Newton was picked off twice in the fourth quarter.
First, his high ball tipped off the hands of McCaffrey, was tipped again and then picked off by Marcus Williams. On his next series, a pass intended over the middle to Funchess was picked by Kenny Vaccaro.
6. No answer for Michael Thomas
Brees hit his favorite receiver almost at will in the first half. Thomas finished the half with six catches on six targets with 61 yards and a touchdown.
7. Benjamin banged up
Receiver Kelvin Benjamin had to leave the game in the first half after getting his left knee bent backward underneath him on a 4-yard catch. He did not return.
Linebacker Thomas Davis also had to leave the game in the third quarter with a rib injury and returned
8. Ted Ginn Jr. pours salt in the wound
Brees connected on a 40-yard touchdown pass to speedy former Panther Ted Ginn Jr on the Saints’ opening drive of the second half.
Ginn Jr. got nearly a free inside release off the line of scrimmage against cornerback James Bradberry, and was a step ahead of the cornerback as he capped his route. Bradberry did not turn around as the ball flew to Ginn Jr., and the latter made the diving catch in the end zone.
9. Where was Riverboat Ron?
Carolina had an 18-point deficit midway through the third quarter by the time the offense got the ball back. Faced with a fourth down and 5 after a Newton-to-Devin-Funchess overthrow, head coach Ron Rivera elected to punt the ball at the New Orleans 35-yard line. The decision drew loud booing from the home crowd.
Palardy, usually excellent with his precision punts, needed the ball to hang high in the air and drop well. Instead it sailed into the end zone, netting 15 yards in the Saints’ favor.
10. Graham Gano stays perfect
Carolina’s kicker still hasn’t missed a field goal in three games, hitting all eight of his attempts including a two Sunday (with a 48-yard long).