The Carolina Panthers picked up a huge win this past Sunday against the division-nemesis Saints. While the final score of 35-27 looks fairly close, the Panthers played well and dominated the Saints from the second quarter until the final whistle.
The offensive line that played horribly in the season opener at Tampa Bay turned it around and not only gave Cam Newton time to throw but also opened up running lanes for the team's esteemed running backs.
Brandon LaFell had a great game, reeling in six catches for 90 yards. He has definitely solidified himself as the No. 2 wide receiver on this team.
The defense had its share of great plays as well. A couple of key turnovers were instrumental in the Panthers' victory, one of which served as a momentum-changer early in the game.
When the Panthers' first offensive series stalled after the Saints opened the game with a touchdown series, the feeling among the fans was that this would be a long day. However, after a great punt by Brad Nortman pinned New Orleans deep in their own territory, the stage was set for a change in momentum.
The defensive line played very well, and the pressure from defensive end Charles Johnson forced Drew Brees to make an uncharacteristically bad throw, which was intercepted by Charles Godfrey, who returned it easily from nine yards out to get the score.
This would not only make the game a 7-7 affair, but it breathed new life into the team and rejuvenated the fans at the stadium.
Then the offense started to get its act together and began to play like the team everyone expected them to be entering the season.
Jonathan Stewart was sorely missed in Week 1. His production and especially his 17-yard touchdown reception proved why against the Saints.
Stewart comes out of the backfield on a play action and looks to block for Newton. He finds himself open at the line of scrimmage, and Newton dumps a pass off to him that he takes up the left sideline for the touchdown.
This is just a shining example of why the Panthers re-signed him. He has a knack for not only running the football but can be a receiving threat out of the backfield, too.
While Steve Smith made the play and picked up the yards, it should be noted that he was wide open. This was due to the fact that the Saints had committed double-coverage to Brandon LaFell, who was picking up where he left off last week.
Because of the added coverage on LaFell, there was no one around to cover Smith, who probably wasn't that wide open since he became a full-fledged starter over a decade ago. That being said, LaFell is the real deal and should be instrumental in the offense's success down the road.
Back to the play at hand.
Smith's reception was not only amazing in terms of how open he was but also due to the fact that he was injured and carted off the field in the previous quarter. His catch and gain of 66 yards allowed the Panthers to get deep into Saints territory and set up Cam Newton's touchdown run at the goal line.
Greg Hardy was noticeably absent in his performance during the preseason and in Week 1 at Tampa Bay. However, he did his part to help restore a pass rush to Carolina's defensive front.
During the third quarter, he was able to get heavy pressure on Drew Brees, and despite not getting the sack, he was able to make Brees throw the ball to the turf, which netted the Saints an intentional-grounding penalty.
Hardy recorded only four tackles and the Panthers defense only came away with one sack, but Brees was harassed throughout much of the game, with this play showing exactly what this defensive unit felt they were capable of doing when the season opened up.
Jon Beason's absence during last season was felt terribly, and it showed. There were some concerns when the preseason opened due to him being held out of games because of an injury. However, his return has seemingly put any reservations to rest, and he cemented that notion on the Panthers' final defensive series.
The Saints got the ball back with 48 seconds left to go in the game. After Brees completed a nine-yard pass to Jimmy Graham, he tried going back to him on the next play only to have Beason step in front of it and make the pick.
While Beason may have been able to return the interception for a score, he made the smart move and went to the ground so the Carolina offense could just take a knee to end the game.
There is no doubt the Panthers had many playmakers and key moments that earned them the victory in this game, but Beason's interception ensured the highly potent New Orleans offense were not given another chance to move the ball.