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CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 24: Michael Thomas
CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 24: Michael Thomas /

The Saints we thought we were seeing in preseason showed up on Sunday in Charlotte. Walk out with 34-13 drubbing of Panthers.

What a difference a week makes. At this time last week, the New Orleans Saints had turned in a second straight horrendous performance, losing to the New England Patriots. Our season had begun 0-2 and the hand wringing had begun. Not only did we lose, the play was very subpar, giving Who Dats very little reason for optimism. As well, the injury bug hit Marshon Lattimore and Sterling Moore, leaving an already thin and overwhelmed cornerback unit even thinner.

But the Saints pulled out what has to be one of the most impressive victories ever against a Carolina Panther team to whom we’d lost 4 of our last 5 matchups. And to do it in Charlotte was even more important. Now, even though the Saints only have one win on the season, it’s a very important one as it marks the first divisional win.

This game brought back good memories of the Saints’ glory years. Solid, innovative offense coupled with a defense that gives up some yards and the occasional big play, but holds teams to field goals instead of a lot of touchdowns. It’s nice to see that again  – it’s been gone for too long. The confidence it may instill is invaluable.

How it unfolded

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Again the Saints won the toss and again they elected to defer to the second half, putting their defense on the field first. Questionable decision again. When Carolina methodically marched the ball down the field on the opening drive, many Saints faithful were likely reaching for the antacid, or something stronger.

But the Saints did something they haven’t done much this season – hold the opponent to a field goal. This would be a theme of the Saints defense on this day, bend but don’t break. After giving up 1,025 yards of total offense in the first 2 weeks of the season, the Saints held Carolina to 288 total yards and only gave up one TD in the contest. They flipped the script from the last two weeks – instead of us being the ones being held to field goals while the opponents got touchdowns, we were the TD makers.

The offense

Offensively, the team finally found a stride and rhythm. Short two starting tackles and playing a backup at left guard, the Saints weren’t without flaws. But they managed to move the ball consistently against a Carolina Panther defense that is traditionally stingy. Michael Thomas finally had a small breakout. The three-headed monster backfield finally got on track. And Ted Ginn, Jr. finally held onto a pass.

Moreover, the offense finally looked something besides stagnant. Play calling was more interesting and balanced. The Saints constantly caught the Panthers guessing and made their defense look kind of like ours had in the first 2 weeks.

The defense

Defensively, the Saints came up with 3 interceptions and 4 sacks. The pressure wasn’t as consistent as we’d like to see. But the hobbled Cam Newton was not as comfortable as he normally is in the pocket. Two of the interceptions were on spectacular plays. P.J. Williams read Newton perfectly and jumped a route to steal a pass in front of Devin Funchess. Later, Marcus Williams dove and made a one-handed juggling grab of a pass that was tipped.

The Panthers

Now we should also take a clearer look at Carolina. While they came into the game 2-0, they did it on the backs of their defense. An off-season surgery for Newton has left him at less than 100% and seemingly in constant pain. He was as bad as he’s ever been, leading to the Saints being able to focus on shutting down the run and getting after Newton in the pocket.

Wideout Kelvin Benjamin was hurt on a play in the first half and never returned. The Panther offense has been relatively stagnant so far this season too. While their defense has been the story of this short season, consideration should be given to the teams they outplayed in their two earlier games.

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Buffalo hasn’t been strong on offense since Jim Kelly was their QB. They opened their season on the road beating a San Francisco team that is on the rebuild. Suffice it to say the Carolina defense hadn’t truly been tested. There was no guarantee that the Saints’ previously out of sync offense was going to do much better, though.

Regardless of Carolina’s woes, the Saints still had to play the game.  Behind a more cohesive offensive effort and a bend but don’t break defense the Saints finally put together a game of substance. And not a moment too soon either as they head to London to face the Dolphins next Sunday. A loss to Carolina would have put this season in jeopardy.