Newton, Panthers drop Saints to 0-2
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The New Orleans Saints’ recipe for losing their first two games has been remarkably similar.
Going against two young, mobile quarterbacks who can beat you with their legs as well as their right arm, the Saints have dropped a pair of eight-point decisions in which they seemingly weren’t that close.
Struggling against the run and pass for a second straight week on Sunday, the Saints were handed a 35-27 loss by Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Bank of America Stadium.
Coupled with a season-opening 40-32 setback to Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins, the Saints are winless after two games for the first time since 2007 and 19th time in the 46-year history of the franchise.
“You can’t panic, but there has to be a sense of urgency,” Saints strongside linebacker Scott Shanle said in a quiet locker room.
“All of a sudden, we’re digging a bigger hole, and that’s not what you want to do.”
The Saints went on to lose two more games for an 0-4 start in that 2007 season before finishing 7-9, just one year after a magical run to the NFC Championship game.
But championship games were far from their minds Sunday.
After giving up 459 total yards to the Redskins in the opener, their new-look defense was gashed for 463 yards by a Panthers team that last week scored 10 points and rushed for just 10 yards in falling to the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Carolina (1-1) finished the game with eight plays of 20 yards or longer, including passes of 66 and 35 yards and two of 27 yards, as well as runs of 40 and 25 yards.
The Panthers rushed for 219 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and netted 244 passing yards with Newton completing 14 of 20 attempts for 253 yards with one touchdown. He was sacked just once and had a passer rating of 129.2.
“If you look at our defense and you look at the two offenses we’ve played, we’ve played the most unconventional offenses in the NFL,” Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer said. “You go from RGIII to Cam Newton, they’re just unconventional.
“Do we have to do better against that style of offense? Yeah, we do.”
Newton didn’t do it alone, however, even though he was the Panthers’ leading rusher with 71 yards and a 5-yard touchdown on 13 carries with a long of 40.
Running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart picked up 59 and 51 yards, respectively, with Williams scoring on a 3-yard run. Stewart added a 17-yard touchdown reception from Newton.
Wide receivers Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, a former LSU standout, combined for nine catches for 194 yards. LaFell also helped the Panthers’ potent rushing attack with a 25-yard dash on a reverse.
While Newton had a 40-yard run, Smith’s 66-yard reception on a blown coverage by the Saints in the fourth quarter was a backbreaker.
After the Panthers turned a 13-7 deficit into a 28-13 lead with three touchdowns in four possessions, the Saints trimmed the deficit to 28-20 when Mark Ingram capped a 68-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run.
But on Carolina’s next play from scrimmage, Newton and Smith took advantage of a blown coverage to hook up for a 66-yard pass that led to Newton’s 5-yard scoring run and a 15-point cushion again.
“We blew a coverage ... and when you do that, it’s going to result in a big play,” said Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins. “It’s unacceptable, and they capitalized on it.”
“I was just as shocked as you guys were,” Newton said of the throw to Smith, who caught three balls for 104 yards. “For anybody on this field to be wide open, you would think that Smitty would be the last one left open.”
“They definitely came out in a bunch of different looks, but they really didn’t so anything we weren’t ready for,” said Jenkins, who tied for the team lead with 10 tackles. “That shows that right now, we aren’t where we want to be.
“We’re only in Week 2, but there needs to be a sense of urgency.”
The Panthers certainly played with it on offense, even though they did lose a fumble while going for a first down on fourth-and-inches at the Saints’ 4 early in the second quarter, and defense.
The defense allowed 486 total yards, but they did help keep the Panthers in the game early when the offense had a punt and the fumble that occurred on fourth-and-inches when Newton was hit by strong safety Roman Harper.
Earlier, after the Saints drove 80 yards to a 1-yard TD pass from Drew Brees to Jimmy Graham, Panthers strong safety Charles Godfrey intercepted a pass from Brees and ran 9 yards to the end zone.
They also forced the Saints to go for a 22-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley after they reached the Panthers’ 4 in the second period and stiffened again on the next drive although Hartley managed a career-long 53-yard field goal.
Brees completed 31 of 49 passes for 325 yards, but threw two interceptions and was sacked once.
He also injured his left ankle in the third quarter, but came back in after getting re-taped.
But for the second straight week, the Saints spent most of the second half trying to come back from a double-digit deficit.
“When you look at it, you turn the ball over for a touchdown and you lose a game by eight points, that can hurt you,” Kromer said. “When you allow big plays on defense, that can hurt you. That’s what happened today.
“We’re going to get it fixed.”