The Carolina Panthers put an end to the negative talk that was swirling around their team after last week’s embarrassing performance in Tampa Bay by shutting down the league’s most prolific offense and putting a 30-7 hurting on the New Orleans Saints. The Panthers looked like a completely different team than the one who was blown off the field just a week ago.
The Carolina defense rose to the occasion and shut down Drew Brees and company, holding the league’s leading passer to 231 yards through the air when, in the last four games, defenses had failed to hold him under 320 yards.
The promising returns of Jeremy Shockey and Marques Colston to the Saints were nothing to write home about as Shockey lost a fumble and said after the game he felt “60 percent worse” than he did before the game. Colston had no receptions and dropped two passes, obviously struggling with the splint that was on his left thumb to prevent further injury to the problematic ligament.
Carolina stopped New Orleans twice on fourth-and-short—one stop coming on fourth-and-goal. Just when you thought the Panthers defense was on its way to falling from the limelight, the unit stepped it up in the biggest way.
The once elusive turnover found Carolina twice Sunday as Ken Lucas recorded an interception and Julius Peppers forced the Shockey fumble that Chris Harris recovered. Both turnovers led to touchdowns for the Panthers, who have had trouble all year capitalizing on their opponents’ mistakes. Peppers also recorded a sack and played with the tenacity that all of his critics have been looking for.
Brees was continuously frustrated in the pocket completing 21 of his 39 pass attempts for 231 yards and the interception. It was the first game this season that Brees was held without a touchdown pass.
Jake Delhomme and the Panthers offense were as productive as they needed to be, putting up at least 30 points for the second straight home game. Delhomme completed 14 of 22 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns, posting a 122.3 quarterback rating—his second highest of the season.
Both touchdown passes came in the third quarter for Delhomme, the first being a 39-yard bomb to Steve Smith, who caught the ball after hitting the ground in the endzone between two defenders.
Smith caught six balls for 122 yards and the touchdown, breaking out of the inconsistent mold he has settled into thus far this season. Muhsin Muhammad caught three passes for 43 yards and no other receiver caught more than one pass. DeAngelo Williams had a four-yard reception for a touchdown late in the third quarter to put the game pretty much out of reach.
The running game was back in full force for the Panthers with Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams combining for 134 yards—almost splitting the yards right down the middle. Stewart ran for 68 yards and the go-ahead touchdown on 17 carries and Williams ran for 66 yards on 18 carries.
The even distribution in the Panthers backfield kept the Saints defense guessing all day as they were unable to stop either back on a regular basis. Stewart’s 18-yard touchdown run in the second quarter put the Bank Of America Stadium crowd into a frenzy that they would keep up for the remainder of the game.
John Kasay nailed three field goals for the Panthers, improving to 14 of 14 on the year. His last, a 28-yard chip shot with 1:57 remaining in the game, capped perhaps the most impressive drive in recent Carolina Panthers history. The Panthers got the ball with 11:27 to play and a 27-7 lead. Delhomme led the offense on a dominating 16-play 88-yard drive that used up an amazing 9:30 of game clock, keeping the potent Saints offense in a harmless spectator role.
The Panthers looked better in the penalty department, committing no false starts for the first time this season. Carolina was whistled only three times for 29 yards, a season low as well. The Panthers offense had the ball right at six minutes longer than Brees and the Saints—a small victory that was absolutely necessary to keep that Saints offensive machine at bay.
The Saints are in a tough position following the big loss as they boarded a plane Sunday night to head to London to play the Chargers next week. Both New Orleans and San Diego will be coming off of losses, so it will be interesting to see which team can overcome the jetlag and unfamiliarity that goes along with traveling overseas.
If this past Sunday was a must-win for the Saints, then next Sunday is a necessity. The Saints now sit at 3-4 with the division leading Buccaneers and Panthers sitting at 5-2. Atlanta was idle, and stays at 4-2.
The Panthers are in a better position as they will welcome another high-octane offense in the Arizona Cardinals into Charlotte next Sunday. The Cardinals will be coming off of their bye week following their defeat of the once-mighty Dallas Cowboys. They will be heading into their bye week after the Arizona game and nothing could be better for them than to head to vacation sitting at 6-2. A victory would do wonders, as the Bucs travel to Dallas and the Falcons travel to Philadelphia—both big games with more than formidable opponents.
If the Panthers can keep up the momentum that they have gained from Sunday’s trouncing of New Orleans, they could very well be on their way to a division title. If the Saints can’t reverse their fortunes, they could be on the way to another disappointing season.