CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Monday night’s NFC South battle between the host Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints featured No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young at quarterback for Carolina and offseason addition Derek Carr under center for New Orleans, but each team’s stout defense controlled the game.
The Saints finally scored the first touchdown of the game late in the third quarter and pulled away late to win 20-17. The Saints head into Week 3 at 2-0, while the Panthers fall to 0-2.
New Orleans Saints
Give the Saints’ defense the MVP award for the second week in a row. The unit bailed out another shaky day for the offense with a smothering performance against the Panthers and Young. The defense kept the rookie quarterback on his heels most of the night, holding him to 22 completions for 153 yards, thanks to a four-man rush that tallied four sacks. The Saints’ offense struggled again, failing to score in the first half for the second straight week but was able to keep pace after a 42-yard pass to Chris Olave set up a touchdown in the third quarter.
Troubling trend: The offensive line play. There is certainly talent on an offensive line stockpiled full of first-round picks, but the unit hasn’t been able to put things together yet this season. The Saints allowed Derek Carr to be sacked four times, bringing the season total to eight through two games. Although they found more success in the run game than last week, running back Jamaal Williams left the game early with a hamstring issue.
QB breakdown: Carr didn’t have an easy time of it early, throwing a bad interception and looking like his timing with his receivers was just a bit off. The Saints had to settle for field goals instead of getting in the end zone. But, like last week, he was able to make the plays when it counted. The downfield throw to Olave was the first play of 20-yards by either team all night, and it seemed to make something click, as he followed that up with another key throw to Rashid Shaheed and another throw to Olave that set up the final touchdown.
Eye-popping stat: The Saints allowed 20 points or fewer for a franchise record 10th game in a row, dating back to last season, and it doesn’t appear to be a fluke. The Saints’ defense allowed fewer than 300 net yards for the second straight week and tallied four more sacks, bringing their total to seven. The only blemish on their record so far was a late touchdown by the Panthers with 1:16 left in the game. It was the first touchdown allowed by the Saints this season.
Next game: at Packers (1 p.m. ET, Monday)
Young and the Panthers’ offense was not ready for primetime on Monday night at Bank of America Stadium. The top pick of the draft turned in a dismal performance, though it wasn’t all Young’s fault. His offensive line broke down constantly, putting the former Alabama star under constant pressure against just a four-man rush. But when under pressure, Young didn’t respond at all until a fourth-quarter scramble for 26 yards. After going 2-for-10 passing and being sacked once against pressure in the opener, he was 3-for-8 for 13 yards with four sacks and a fumble in this one.
He did a nice job of getting rid of the ball and making a few plays with his legs, but he never did it in the passing game — he still doesn’t have a completion longer than 15 yards. All these are reasons why Carolina has scored only two touchdowns in the first two games, and Young’s inexperience continues to be front and center.
Troubling trend: Young and the Panthers on third down. The Panthers were 4 of 14 on third downs, and Young was a big reason for the inefficiency, going 4-for-9 for 32 yards with two sacks and two scrambles on third downs.
Biggest hole in the game plan: What to do on third-and-short. The Panthers can’t use the quarterback sneak because Young (5-foot-10, 204 pounds) just isn’t big enough to make that work. Plus, he doesn’t have experience at it. So Carolina had to bring in backup quarterback Andy Dalton on those plays. The first time there was a false start. The second, Dalton pitched to running back Miles Sanders for a first down, but this could be an issue moving forward.
Pivotal play: On the first series of the second half, Young had a strip sack that would have put the Saints in the red zone with a 6-3 lead. It could have been disastrous, but the play was nullified, thanks to a defensive holding penalty. That allowed Carolina to stay within striking distance till the end.
Next game: at Seahawks (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)