New Orleans puts up better effort against Panthers
e_SDLqWe went out there to improve on penalties and on third down, and we wanted to run the ball more efficiently. We did that.” Aaron Kromer, Saints interim coach
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After a less-than-spectacular season-opening performance against the Washington Redskins one week earlier, the New Orleans Saints offense came out firing Sunday.
Looking more like an offense that led the NFL in total yards in four of the past six seasons than the one that staggered around for 31/2 quarters in the loss to the Redskins, the Saints appeared to be back on their game on the opening possession against the Carolina Panthers.
With Drew Brees hitting on all six of his pass attempts for 54 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown flip to Jimmy Graham, the Saints efficiently drove 80 yards in 11 plays to quiet the Bank of America Stadium crowd.
But that was as good as it got for the Saints, who, even though they finished with 486 total yards, didn’t score another touchdown until the fourth quarter when the Panthers were up 28-13 en route to a 35-27 victory.
“That was a great way to start the game,” said Brees, who mixed the run and pass to perfection on that first drive and converted all three third downs. “Obviously, we feel good about our openers (scripted plays). We went out and executed very well.”
Brees went on to complete 31 of 49 passes for 325 yards with a TD and two interceptions, one of which helped the Panthers tie the score after the Saints defense forced a Carolina punt on its first possession.
Backed up inside their 10-yard line, Brees drifted out of the pocket in his own end zone when he tried to throw an ill-advised pass to a well-covered David Thomas.
Panthers strong safety Charles Godfrey stepped in front of Thomas and picked off the pass, then scooted to the end zone to tie the game with 5:33 to play in the opening quarter.
After that, the Saints settled for two Garrett Hartley field goals, one from the red zone, and had three punts before Mark Ingram’s 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter pulled them to within 28-20.
“Unfortunately, I had the turnover early that resulted in a touchdown for them … which is a huge play in the game,” said Brees, who completed just 46.2 percent of his passes against the Redskins. “It can’t happen.”
Despite the interceptions, the Saints had a much better offensive showing overall — an encouraging sign after the Redskins’ debacle.
The Saints’ three third-down conversions on their first drive gave them one more than they had in the entire game last week, and they went on to move the chains on 7 of 13 opportunities for 53.8 percent.
They rushed for 163 yards and a 6.0 average with Pierre Thomas gaining 110 yards on nine attempts and Darren Sproles caught 13 passes for 128 yards.
“You just look at (the rushing yards), which is phenomenal, and you’d say we won the game,” Brees said. “Better than 50 percent on third down. Red-zone efficiency, 500 yards in total offense, you look at the stats and we should have won.”
They also had just one offensive penalty after committing six against the Redskins that constantly put them in second- and third-and-long situations.
“We improved in a lot of areas that we wanted to improve in,” interim coach Aaron Kromer said. “We went out there to improve on penalties and on third down, and we wanted to run the ball more efficiently. We did that.”
It didn’t help, however, that the defense gave up 463 total yards to the Panthers offense and has slowed 75 points in two games.
But Brees and his offensive teammates weren’t about to blame the loss on anyone else even though the offense did look better.
“Unfortunately, we have done some things these last two games that have set us back and prevented us from winning,” he said. “The important thing is recognizing what those things are and having an answer for them.
“I feel like we have that.”