An ugly game gave way to a Saints route as the Carolina Panthers dropped to 1-12 on the season.
The Panthers got the ball first. After the standard run up the middle for a modest game to start the game, the Panthers took a deep shot to Jonathan Mingo, who had a step, but Bryce Young overthrew him. Young went deep again on third down, but he wasn’t on the same page as Stephen Sullivan and the ball fell to the turf.
The Saints nickel and dimed the Panthers down to the 11 yard line, where the defense stiffened up. Derek Carr was forced to throw two balls away and set up a short field goal. Fortunately for the Panthers, the Saints rookie kicker hooked it, and the teams stayed tied at zero.
The Panthers couldn’t take advantage of their good fortune. Young found Chark streaking across the middle, but the receiver couldn’t stay on his feet, which limited the explosiveness of the play. On the very next play, Young was hit as he threw and was picked off.
The Saints went nowhere and were forced to punt after an intentional grounding took them out of field goal range. The Panthers punted it back, and the Saints drove deep into Panthers territory as the quarter drew to a close.
Alvin Kamara slashed through the defense on the first play of the second quarter for a touchdown. It was the 18th consecutive play run by the Saints in Panthers territory, so it was only a matter of time before the defense finally broke.
The Panthers leaned heavily on the run on what would be their first scoring drive of the game. Young scrambled for 21 yards on a third down to put the Panthers in field goal range. The drive stalled out when Young tried to hit a tightly covered DJ Chark across the middle, but the receiver couldn’t make the catch. Eddy Pineiro knocked in the long field goal to put the Panthers on the board.
The teams traded punts, but the Panthers badly failed theirs. A defender came through unblocked and basically took the punt off Johnny Hekker’s foot. The Saints recovered for a touchdown, and Hekker was left injured on the turf.
The Panthers worked their way across midfield. They ended up with a 4th and 1. Young took another deep shot, this time to Chark, and the ball fell through his arms and to the turf. The Saints felt bad for the Panthers or something. They had a screen pass blown up for a nine yard loss, then Derrick Brown batted a ball down off a Saints helmet and then grabbed it for an interception.
Young missed two open deep throws to start the ensuing drive, either of which could have ended in a touchdown had he thrown a better ball. He ended up having to throw the ball out of bounds to end the half. The Panthers trailed 14-3 at the break.
The Panthers forced the Saints into a 4th and 1 then became what may have been the first team to ever fall for the ol’ “try to draw them offsides” trick, especially after not biting on the first two hard counts. They ended up getting off the field anyway after a really nice pass breakup from Jaycee Horn deep down the field against Chris Olave.
Bryce Young found Adam Thielen on a corner route to pick up a bug chunk. A couple of plays later, Miles Sanders bobbed weaved for a 49 yard run, but he couldn’t quite get into the endzone. That was damning for a Panthers offense that has struggled to do anything around the goal line. Sanders got stuffed on first down, then Young was sacked on second. The Panthers had to settle for another field goal.
The Panthers stuffed a couple of Saints runs, then Frankie Luvu got into the backfield to sack Derek Carr on 3rd down. The Panthers marched down the field in just a few plays. They got a nice chunk on an end-around by Ihmir Smith-Marsette and then on a (finally successful) deep shot to Adam Thielen.
Young ended up getting sacked on third down again, setting up a 41 yard field goal. Pineiro hooked it, and it wobbled into the left upright. The Panthers forced another punt after Derek Carr threw a couple of nothing passes. They drove into midfield and were faced with another 4th and 1. Young looked for Raheem Blackshear on a stop route on the outside, but Blackshear fell down on his break and couldn’t reel in the pass.
The Saints hit a big pass on the first play after the turnover on downs. The Panthers stuffed a first down run, then Derek Carr panicked and tried to throw a pass to his left tackle. On third down, Jimmy Graham made the kind of heavily contested catch the Panthers had been failing at all game, then Carr found Olave on a quick slant for a touchdown.
The Panthers came out with four straight incompletions. Two were throwaways after Young looked off his checkdown, and the last was another bad overthrow to Tommy Tremble (who may have slowed down). The Saints quickly turned the super short field into another touchdown.
With the game decided, the Panthers drove down the field to fluff the stats and try to punch in a consolation touchdown. Young underthrew a potential touchdown to pass to an open-ish Stephen Sullivan, which allowed the trailing defender to break up the pass. He got sacked on third down, then his desperation heave on fourth down fell harmlessly to the turf.
While there had been plenty of problems with the offensive coaching all season long, that didn’t seem to be the case in this game. The Panthers’ offense had more creative concepts and players were given more opportunities to hit big plays. However, not a one actually took advantage of those opportunities except for maybe Miles Sanders. Whenever Young threw a tightly covered receiver, they failed to make a play. If the receivers did get open, Young was missing them. It was arguably Young’s worst game as a pro, and it might not be close. It was a failing on all fronts on the offense.
The defense continues to play well despite the unwavering incompetence of the offense. They kept the Saints bottled up for most of the day, and the score only got out of hand after the offense kept giving the ball to the Saints within scoring range.
We’ll try again next week. The Panthers will be back at home against the Falcons next week in front of a probably mostly empty crowd in Bank of America Stadium.