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Saints Prove They Can Win on the Road with Huge Victory over Panthers

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterOctober 31, 2014

Chuck Burton/AP Images

It wasn't very pretty, but the New Orleans Saints finally have their road win. 

Forced to play on Thursday Night Football—in a divisional game for first place in the NFC South against the Carolina Panthers, no less—the Saints took care of business, beating Cam Newton and Co. in a sloppy yet satisfying 28-10 victory. 

Quarterback Drew Brees didn't have the greatest night by his standards and was credited with an interception off of a tipped pass, but it wasn't exactly a lost cause, either, as he went 24-of-34 (71 percent) with both a passing and a rushing touchdown. 

Brees' 8.74 yards per passing attempt is his second-best mark of the season after his 9.72 YPA last week against the Green Bay Packers, and it's his best mark on the road since Oct. 21...of 2012. It revealed not only a more accurate Brees than we often see on the road, but also a more patient Brees. 

As I remarked during the game on Twitter, Brees' patience and trust in his protection are the biggest differences between the Saints offense of the past two weeks and what they were showcasing earlier in the season. 

One of the keys to the Saints offense is the intermediate passing game—especially in a year where they've hoped to transition to more of a zone-blocking scheme with running back Mark Ingram. 

In previous weeks, Brees has picked around the edges of the defense rather than attacking it. It wasn't an issue with game plan or personnel, but rather attitude. Against the Packers and now the Panthers, that attitude changed. 

The Saints started acting like the dominant team many expected them to be prior to the season. 

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

Asked a scout who studied Mark Ingram why he’s so much better: 1. Running with confidence. 2. Inside/outside zone scheme fits his strengths

This, then, has greatly benefited Ingram. 

After starting the season strong and losing some time to injury, Ingram returned a couple of weeks ago to face a tough Detroit Lions run defense. Since then, he's turned it on with arguably the best stretch he's had since his days at Alabama. (Honestly, that's not that much of a distinction, as his career had largely been a disappointment to this point.) 

He had 100 yards on the dot against the Panthers defense. 

That sounds more impressive than it actually is, as the Panthers' stonewalling defense from last season hasn't quite carried over to this season.

Though many fretted about the defensive backfield in Carolina this past offseason, it's actually been the interior of the defensive line (once thought to be a strength) that has let the Panthers down this year. 

Still, Ingram has run for 272 yards over the past couple of weeks and scored three touchdowns in that span, bringing his season total to six. Without Ingram, it's very likely that the Saints wouldn't have picked up either of their last two wins, since he is both a valuable weapon and an effective closer late in games. 

Wide receivers Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks, tight end Jimmy Graham—the list of those who played big roles in the Saints offense taking a step forward (albeit after an awfully slow start) goes on and on. Brees targeted 10 different receivers, and four different players ran with the ball. 

Yet, much like last week, the defense also played a big part in the victory. 

Since the Saints' Week 6 bye week, their opponents have yet to eclipse 30 points in a game. The Lions, Packers and now Panthers have all sputtered against a Rob Ryan-led defense that had struggled so mightily earlier in the season. 

Magic formula, or just better play?

A big part of the turnaround has been the improved play of the Saints linebackers, especially Curtis Lofton and Junior Galette. Against the Panthers, the two combined for 11 tackles, and Galette added two sacks, a hit on Newton and a few extra pressures. 

Ramon Antonio Vargas @RVargasAdvocate

Before that, Junior Galette's strip sack recovered by Curtis Lofton is the #saints 7th takeaway since the bye. They had 2 from Wks. 1-5.

The pressure that Newton felt resulted in his passes being off their mark all night. He has been throwing the ball well—at least in terms of velocity—but he wasn't passing it well, if you get the distinction. He showed little in terms of touch, accuracy and deftness, which is a marked deviation from his phenomenal play earlier in the year. 

Last year, the Saints defense was one of the best. Though it's not on that level in 2014, it's worthwhile to note some of the same traits have started showing up in recent weeks. 

This was a huge win for the Saints. As I wrote last week, the Saints needed to win this game, as they have an upcoming three-game homestand and are so tough to beat at the Superdome. With this victory in the books, it's almost assured that the Saints can sustain their lead in the NFC South in the coming weeks. 

Josh Katzowitz @joshkatzowitz

Drew Brees to @tracywolfson on the Saints now-broken 7-game road losing streak: "Everybody has made a bigger deal out of it than we have."

In back-to-back prime-time games with little rest against tough opponents in near-must-win situations, the Saints have shown their fortitude and their drive. 

With this road monkey off of their backs, it's becoming a lot more difficult to doubt the Saints this season.

Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter.

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