Brees’ 3 TDs lead Saints past Panthers
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The New Orleans Saints knew their season was trending in the wrong direction and it would take a monumental performance to alter the path.
They received that with a smothering defense and efficient offense in Sunday’s 34-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Drew Brees threw three touchdown passes as the Saints cracked one of the NFL’s top defenses at Bank of America Stadium.
“We took it as motivation,” Saints linebacker A.J. Klein said of securing the team’s first victory. “We’ve been craving a win.”
Brees completed 22 of 29 passes for 220 yards as the Saints (1-2) won in their first game against an NFC South foe this season.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was intercepted three times, and he didn’t play after the third pickoff with 7:09 remaining in the game. Newton completed 17 of 26 passes for 167 yards against a New Orleans pass defense that had been torched by Minnesota and New England in the first two weeks.
The Saints held the Panthers to 288 yards of total offense.
“Plus-3 in the turnovers is going to win us a lot of games,” said Klein, who joined the Saints during the offseason as a free agent after playing for Carolina. “I think we put it together and we had great communication on the back end. We knew they were going to test us, (and) we responded and made our changes that we needed to.”
The Saints opened a 24-6 lead on the first possession of the third quarter when Brees threw a 40-yard touchdown strike to Ted Ginn Jr., who is a former Panther.
“I pretty much tried to hold my line and Drew did what he (does),” Ginn said of the play in which he fell to the turf in the end zone as he clutched the ball.
Carolina’s first touchdown in more than seven quarters of game action came on Newton’s 3-yard run with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter as the Panthers closed the gap to 24-13. That concluded a seven-play, 83-yard drive.
But too often the Panthers sputtered despite 101 receiving yards from running back Christian McCaffrey, whose nine catches accounted for nearly half of the team’s 19 completions.
“We have to be better,” Carolina tight end Ed Dickson said. “We’ll be better and start scoring more. We can’t be a field-goal team.”
Wil Lutz booted a 50-yard field goal with 11:57 remaining to push the Saints’ edge to 27-13. Three minutes later, he missed wide left from 56 yards away but that was followed by Newton throwing his third interception of the game.
That resulted in rookie running back Alvin Kamara’s first career touchdown run from 25 yards out.
The Panthers (2-1) gave up a touchdown for the first time this season with 22 seconds left in the first quarter on Brees’ 5-yard pass to Michael Thomas. Thomas had five receptions accounting for 50 yards on the 13-play drive.
Carolina trailed for the first time this year, but then it worsened for the Panthers.
P.J. Williams picked off Newton midway through the second quarter, with his 7-yard return setting up the Saints at the Carolina 24. Four plays later, Brandon Coleman caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Brees.
The Saints reached the Carolina 3 in the final two minutes of the first half, but a pair of plays with lost yardage meant New Orleans settled for Lutz’s 33-yard field goal on the last play of the half.
The Saints led 17-6 at halftime.
“I think there were some times that we might have hurt ourselves,” Panthers center Tyler Larsen said. “We’ve got to get back to the film and see what happened and learn from it.”
The game’s first possession ended with Panthers kicker Graham Gano’s 32-yard field goal. He hit a 48-yarder in the second quarter to improve to 8-for-8 on field goals this season.
NOTES: New Orleans Saints rookie DE Trey Hendrickson recorded his first NFL sack in the third quarter. ... New Orleans CB Arthur Maulet made his NFL debut after moving up from the practice squad. ... Saints DT David Parry exited in the first quarter with an injured left leg. ... Carolina Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin didn’t return after suffering a left knee injury on the final play of the first quarter. ... For the second week in a row, Panthers C Ryan Kalil (neck) was out and C Tyler Larsen started in his place. ... The Saints play next Sunday against the Miami Dolphins in London. ... The Panthers play next week at New England.