Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Saints.
F QUARTERBACK : Cam Newton looked like he was gun-shy all night, playing behind an offensive line missing three starters. But even when Newton had time to throw, he was woefully off-target. He completed 10 of 28 passes, and finished with career lows in completion percentage, passer rating and completions. Newton lost two turnovers, although neither was his fault. Still, it was a bad performance in a game the Panthers had to win.
B RUNNING BACKS : DeAngelo Williams, back after missing four games with a high ankle sprain, had a 30-yard gain on a screen pass on the first play of the second half. Williams, however, was largely ineffective other than that. Jonathan Stewart picked up tough yards for the third consecutive game. Stewart averaged 6 yards a carry.
D RECEIVERS : Rookie Kelvin Benjamin dropped a potential touchdown pass for the second consecutive game. He was targeted 10 and had two catches, although many were uncatchable passes. Benjamin also had a holding call that nullified a first-down run by Stewart. Tight end Greg Olsen was a forgotten man for the second game in a row.
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D OFFENSIVE LINE : The left side of the line, featuring undrafted rookies Andrew Norwell and David Foucault, was beaten badly most of the game. Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette got past Norwell to sack Newton and force a fumble that the Saints recovered at the Panthers 4.
B DEFENSIVE LINE : Defensive end Charles Johnson forced quarterback Drew Brees to fumble when he bulldozed fullback Erik Lorig back into Brees during the first half. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards had his third career interception and added one of the four sacks on Brees. Defensive end Wes Horton also had a sack.
B- LINEBACKERS : Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly finished with eight tackles – 16 off his NFL record-tying total against the Saints last December. Outside linebacker Thomas Davis had a huge hit on tight end Jimmy Graham on Edwards’ interception and finished with six stops.
D DEFENSIVE BACKS : Brees took advantage of the patchwork secondary, which was missing injured free safety Thomas DeCoud. Brees didn’t have a completion longer than 27 yards, although he had eight of at least 18 yards. Cornerback Antoine Cason was benched after committing a 32-yard, pass-interference penalty that set up the Saints’ second touchdown.
B SPECIAL TEAMS : Punter Brad Nortman forced rookie returner Brandin Cooks to fair-catch four of his six chances. Cooks managed just 2 yards on the other two returns. The Panthers’ return game was a non-factor. Brenton Bersin averaged 21 yards on three kickoff returns, and third-string quarterback Joe Webb had a 26-yard run-back.
D COACHING : The Panthers were hamstrung personnel-wise because of injuries, particularly along the offensive line. But it didn’t look like offensive coordinator Mike Shula gave enough help to Norwell and Foucault, who were overwhelmed at times. The running backs needed more touches. The Panthers haven’t won a game in 26 days, and are 1-5-1 since a 2-0 start. The season is slipping away from coach Ron Rivera.