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Monday Morning Optimist: The Panthers beat the Saints

No matter how the rest of the season goes, we’ll always have this.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It had been 325 days since the Carolina Panthers had won a football game. Their nine straight losses dating back to last season was the longest in the league. Weeks 1 and 2 looked like a seamless continuation of last season, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. The team’s trajectory was not going in the right direction, and a loss to the New Orleans Saints would send the team into further despair.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. If there is one game you want the Panthers to win in a season, it’s the home game against a Saints, and the Panthers did just that. The offense still looked like a mostly dysfunctional mess and Baker Mayfield still hasn’t proven the Cleveland Browns wrong for moving on, but those are conversations for a different, more despondent time. Today is about being optimistic and extolling the good things the Panthers did in their win. We’ll forgo the things I didn’t like at the end of this so we can keep the good times rolling through the week.

What I liked

The defense, especially against the run

The Panthers were gashed by Nick Chubb and the Browns run game in Week 1, but they tightened it up against Saquon Barkley and the Giants in Week 2. They kept up that momentum against the Saints two headed backfield of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Kamara shook loose for one 27 yard run early on the first genuine play of the game, but after that he was limited to just 34 yards on 14 carries.

The Browns to this point in the season have the best run game in the league, so perhaps this defense just faced bad match-up in Week 1. They’ve held up since then, and there’s reason to be hopeful that remains the case through the rest of the season.

The pass defense was also good for a lot of the game, but they faltered when Jameis Winston started heaving deep desperation deep balls. The defensive backs got outplayed for just about every 50-50 ball. However, prior to that, the Panthers did a good job making Jameis Winston uncomfortable. They forced him into two picks, one of which came off a tipped pass by Jaycee Horn and the other of which was actually caught by Horn, and kept the big plays to a minimum for most of the game.

Frankie Luvu, again

Luvu was present in this space last week, and he’s earned himself a spot here again. He finished the game with five tackles and ripped the ball out of Kamara’s arm, which led to Marquis Haynes’ scoop and score to get the Panthers on the board. He got some good pressure on Winston at different points and was a frequent target of praise from the commentary crew calling the game. The Panthers have themselves a player here.

Laviska Shenault

Speaking of diamonds in the rough, the former Jaguar made his Panthers debut and almost single handedly put the game away late. He answered the Saints first touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter by running the kickoff back past the 30 yard line. He followed that up two plays later by taking his first offensive touch as a Panther 67 yards to the endzone. He converted a 3rd and 14 with a 23 yard catch and run to force the Saints to start burning timeouts later in the fourth quarter.

Shenault looked quick and dynamic with the ball in his hands. The Panthers offense badly needs a jolt, and Shenault provided that today. He should become a bigger part of the game plan in future weeks as he gets familiar with this teammates and the playbook.

That winning feeling

The Panthers haven’t sent the fans home with a win in over a calendar year, so it’s nice to see that winning environment back in Bank of America Stadium. They have two more home games coming up in the next couple of weeks against tough NFC West opposition, and now the vibes will be high heading into those contests.