Carolina Panthers

Panthers report card: Best defensive game of the year, but offense ... not so much

Grading the Carolina Panthers (6-8) for Monday night’s 12-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints (12-2):

F Quarterback: Cam Newton’s shoulder seemed to be bothering him more than ever in a game in which he had his worst passer rating since a Week 17 loss last year. Passes sailed and skipped off the ground on multiple occasions.

A Running backs: Running back Christian McCaffrey broke the Panthers’ single-season record for scrimmage yards in the first quarter, and then threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chris Manhertz on a trick play.

D Receivers: I’d argue that Newton’s interception was partially on Devin Funchess, who didn’t appear to get much separation on the play (though the ball also looked a little underthrown). Receiver DJ Moore had a costly fumble.

F Offensive line: The health Carolina’s offensive line continues to be a concern, and three false starts did the team no favors - though one was a suspect call, according to center Ryan Kalil. Newton was sacked four times and hit five times.

A Defensive line: The Panthers’ front got the kind of pressure that mattered on quarterback Drew Brees: Straight up the middle. Brees was hassled often and erred on some throws. Defensive tackle Vernon Butler combined with linebacker Shaq Thompson on a sack and

A Linebackers: Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis flew all over the field, combining for 25 tackles. Kuechly batted down a ball, while Davis stuffed a third down run and broke up a pass, which led to an interception by James Bradberry.

A Secondary: Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson had a rare “pick-2” on a two-point conversion, and floated down the field past every other player for a 98-yard return. Bradberry snagged his first pick of the season and nickel Captain Munnerlyn had two pass breakups and a sack.

D Special teams: Punter Michael Palardy did an excellent job flipping the field, but the coverage allowed an explosive return by running back Alvin Kamara and linebacker David Mayo ran into punter Thomas Morstead, drawing an extremely costly penalty that gave the Saints the ball back.

B+ Coaching: Ron Rivera’s defensive calls were excellent and he won two challenges, while Turner called a trick play that led to a Panthers touchdown. This grade is brought down by some strange decision-making at the end of the second quarter, when the Panthers appeared to let a little too much time run off the clock before calling for a time out.

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071; @jourdanrodrigue