Saints offense has success, but picks, sacks stop drives

Saints offense has success, but two interceptions, six sacks stop drives

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The New Orleans Saints beat the Carolina Panthers in nearly every offensive statistic and still managed to lose 17-13. The Saints won the first meeting between their NFC South rival and division title contender 31-13 two weeks ago.

Drew Brees was 33-of-44 for 281 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was sacked six times, tying for the most sacks Brees has had as a Saint. Brees was sacked six times in a 31-21 loss to St. Louis on Dec. 15, 2011.

Carolina was highly criticized for not getting more pressure on Brees in the first matchup.

“Listen, they are a good pass rush team, so they did a good job of applying the pressure at times, “Brees said. “(They) did a good job of covering some things downfield when we were trying to push the ball downfield, and so that was maybe a result of ending up having to hold the ball a little bit longer, and they were able to get sacks.”

Saints coach Sean Payton announced Wednesday a change at starting left tackle, replacing four-year veteran Charles Brown with third-round draft pick and rookie Terron Armstead. Payton was not pointing at the rookie for blame.

“He had a good week in practice,” Payton said. “I thought with the matchup he had, I thought very good. We knew going in there were going to be some challenges, there always is at the position though, but very good.”

Brees shouldered at least some of the blame for the sacks.

“Some of those were on me, just getting the ball out,” Brees said.

The Saints were held to two field goals in the first half after stalling out on two drives in the second quarter. The first was an eight-play, 45-yard drive resulting in a 40-yard field goal by newly signed kicker Shayne Graham. The second field goal came at the end of a seven-play, 46-yard drive stopped on the Carolina 7-yard line, resulting in a 24-yard field goal.

“They were really good in the red zone today,” Payton said. “ We got in there a couple of times but had to kick field goals. And we kind of hurt ourselves with some penalties, and taking sacks. You know you can’t do that when you get in the red zone.”

The Saints offense continued to struggle in the second half, with its only touchdown of the game coming when they needed it the most. With 12:36 left in the fourth quarter and down 10-6, the Saints took over at their own 3-yard line. On the second play of the drive, Brees hit Graham for a 48-yard pass.

“That was obviously a huge play, just to get us out from our own end zone,” said Brees. “You know we had played for most of that third quarter on our end of the field. You have to flip-flop the field somehow so you know anytime you in a coming out situation where you are inside your 10, you are always thinking, ‘Hey let’s get a couple of first downs and change field possession.’ But then you get a big play like that to Jimmy that gets you out to midfield. Then you get a couple more big plays to get you down inside the 5, and then a big third-down conversion for the touchdown. That’s what good teams do.”

The Saints drove 97 yards on 11 plays ending the drive on a 5-yard touchdown catch from Brees to Jimmy Graham. The Saints took the lead 13-10 with 6:37 left.

At the time, Graham still wasn’t sure that New Orleans would walk away victorious.

“I was excited, that’s for sure,” Graham said. “There was just too much time left on the clock, and you know there’s probably going to be a couple of possessions maybe, one for them and one for you, and it just comes down to that.”

The Panthers eventually got the ball back with 55 seconds left in the game. A five-play, 65-yard drive sealed the Saints’ fate.

“We gave up the big drive at the end, but it’s disappointing, it’s not discouraging,” Payton said. “I was proud, as I have been all season, with the effort and the way we played. We’ll be just fine if we keep doing that.”