Saints pull away from Panthers to win defensive battle over MNF

CHARLOTTE, NC — Monday night’s NFC South showdown between the Panthers and the Saints had Carolina starting quarterback Bryce Young and New Orleans’ offseason addition Derek Carr under center, but each team’s stout defense controlled the game.

The Saints finally scored their first touchdown of the game late in the third quarter, then pulled away late to win 20-17. The Saints are 2-0 heading into Week 3, while the Panthers fall to 0-2.

New Orleans Saints

Award the Saints’ defense the MVP award for the second week in a row. The unit bounced back from another shaky outing on offense with a wild performance against Young and the Panthers. The defense contained the rookie quarterback for most of the night thanks to a four-man rush that held him to 22 completions for 153 yards and tallied four sacks. The Saints’ offense struggled back, failing to score for the second straight first half, but was able to keep the momentum going in the third quarter after Chris Olave caught a 42-yard pass that set up a touchdown.

Problematic trend: Offensive line play. There’s certainly talent on the O-line with first-round picks, but the unit just hasn’t been able to put things together this season. The Saints allowed Carr to be sacked four times, bringing his season total to eight through two games. New Orleans saw more success in the run game than last week, but Jamaal Williams left the game early with a hamstring problem.

QB Breakdown: Carr didn’t have an easy time of it, with one bad interception and his timing with his receivers seemingly off. The Saints had to settle for field goals instead of going into the end zone. But like last week, Carr was able to make plays when it counted. A downfield throw to Olave was the first 20 yards by either team, and Carr followed that up with another key throw to Rashid Shaheed and a toss to Olave to set up the final touches.

Eye-catching Stats: The Saints allowed 20 points or fewer for a franchise-record 10th game in a row, dating back to last season. The defense was held to less than 300 net yards for the second straight week, and it added four more sacks, bringing its season total to seven. The only blemish so far was the Panthers’ late touchdown with 1:16 left; It was the first TD allowed by the Saints this season.

Next game: at Green Bay Packers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Carolina Panthers

Young and the Panthers’ offense weren’t ready for prime time Monday night at Bank of America Stadium. Though not Young’s fault, the draft’s top pick turned in a poor performance. His offensive line continued to break down, putting the former Alabama star under constant pressure against a four-man rush. But under pressure, Young didn’t respond until scrambling for 26 yards in the fourth quarter. After going 2-for-10 passing and getting sacked once against pressure in the start, he was 3-for-8 for 13 yards with four sacks and a fumble.

He cleared the ball and made some good plays with his feet, but he never got through — he still had no more than 15 yards to complete. These are all reasons why Carolina has scored just two touchdowns in the first two games, and Young’s inexperience continues to be front and center.

Problematic 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-of-9 for 32 yards with two sacks and two scrambles on third downs.

Biggest hole in the game plan: Third and briefly what to do. The Panthers can’t use a quarterback sneak because Young (5-foot-10, 204 pounds) isn’t big enough to do the job. Also, he has no experience with it. So Carolina had to back up Andy Dalton on those plays. The first time was a false start. In the second, Dalton threw Myles Sanders back for a first down, but this could be a problem going forward.

Main play: On the first series of the second half, Young had a strip sack that would have kept the Saints in the red zone with a 6-3 lead. It could have been disastrous, but thanks to a defensive holding penalty, the play was nullified. That allowed Carolina to stay within striking distance until the end.

Next game: at Seahawks (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)

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