NEW ORLEANS — Coming into the Panthers’ first season under head coach Matt Rhule, a simple offseason analysis of the team pointed to an offense with potential under coordinator Joe Brady’s direction and a defense with a lot of young players that would need to develop as the year progressed.
Leading up to the Panthers’ Week 7 NFC South contest in New Orleans, the defense had over-delivered in multiple games while the offense struggled to find consistency.
Against the Saints, Teddy Bridgewater had one of his best games as a Panther in his return to New Orleans, but the defense’s inability to get off the field cost the Panthers a chance to come away with a close win, losing 27-24, and dropping their record to 3-4.
Bridgewater finished the game with 254 passing yards, completing 23 of 28 pass attempts with two touchdowns. But a late sack — the Panthers only one of the day — on third-and-11 with 2:25 remaining proved costly. Instead of going for it on fourth down, Rhule trotted out kicker Joey Slye to try what would be an NFL-record 65-yard field goal to tie the game, but the ball fell inches short of the crossbar, sealing Carolina’s fate.
Bridgewater finished with a better completion percentage than Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who completed 29 of 36 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite Bridgewater’s success, the Panthers could not get the running back going against the Saints in the team’s fifth game without Christian McCaffrey. The Panthers had 14 rushing plays with Mike Davis running for 12 yards on seven attempts and Bridgewater had just two yards less (10) on two attempts.
Saints running back Alvin Kamara rushed for 83 yards on 14 carries, amidst many missed tackles by the Panthers defense, in addition to 65 receiving yards. The Saints put up 415 total yards of offense.
On the first two Saints touchdown drives, the Panthers defense could do nothing to stop New Orleans, allowing drives of 75 and 78 yards. In the first half, the Saints converted all five of their third-down attempts and Carolina gave up an average of seven yards per play.
Getting off the field on third down was an issue throughout the game. The Saints converted 12 of 14 third down tries (86%). The Panthers had previously never allowed an opponent to convert more than 80% of third downs in a game in franchise history.
The Panthers had a chance to stop the Saints early on their third possession after limiting New Orleans on third down, but a hold from cornerback Donte Jackson — the Panthers’ only penalty of the game — away from the play gave New Orleans a first down.
On the following play, running back Alvin Kamara exploded for 32 yards and another missed opportunity for the defense to get off the field.
Just five plays later, edge rusher Brian Burns made the Panthers’ best defensive play of the day, sacking Brees, who fumbled the football at the Panthers’ 25-yard line. Marquis Haynes recovered it. The sack was Burns’ third forced fumble this year.
It took the Panthers’ offense a little time to get going after settling for a 43-yard Joey Slye field goal on the first possession of the game. But once Bridgewater got cooking in his return to New Orleans, the offense flowed, including a 74-yard touchdown pass to DJ Moore on the Panthers’ second possession.
Bridgewater then took advantage of the Burns’ strip-sack with a nine-play 65-yard drive that ended with Moore’s second touchdown of the day on a short seven-yard pass. Sunday was Moore’s second career game with two touchdowns, the other being the Panthers-Saints game in New Orleans last year.
But with just 1:35 remaining in the first half after Moore’s second touchdown — and Carolina holding their only lead of the game at 17-14 — the Panthers allowed the Saints to drive down the field on eight plays for 75 yards to re-take the lead with a four-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Deonte Harris before the break.
It took until the second half for the game’s first punt, courtesy of the Panthers. Two Will Lutz second half field goals were enough for New Orleans to hold on to win.
While the Panthers kept the game close in the second half and outscored the Saints 7-6, that wasn’t enough with the Carolina defense unable to give the offense a chance.
©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)