It looked like it was going to be easy.
The New Orleans Saints marched right down the field, going 80 yards for a touchdown on the first possession of the game. It turned out to be easy--for the Carolina Panthers.
The Carolina offense, which did nothing in a week one loss at Tampa Bay, could do nothing wrong in a week two 35-27 win over New Orleans. What is the difference?
It is about players.
The Buccaneers have them on defense; the Saints do not.
In discussing the defensive woes of the Saints, where do you start? They do not run well enough, are not physical enough, do not tackle well and cannot cover in the secondary. When they are in position to make a play, they cannot hold on to the ball. Now we know why Gregg Williams blitzed so frequently!
When the Panthers got inside the 10-yard line of the Saints, they just ran right at New Orleans and bludgeoned them, destroying New Orleans at the line-of-scrimmage. It was easy.
Offensively, the Saints left all kinds of points on the board in the first half. They could not finish drives. Yardage is for losers, points are for winners. That said, when you score 27 points in the NFL, you should win. Ditto 32, which they scored in the first loss to Washington. Do the numbers. Averaging 29.5 points per contest, the Saints are 0-2. The Saints deserved to lose both games. they earned both.
The end result is an 0-2 team with the NFL's worst defense, a defense that has given up an amazing 922 yards and 75 points in two games, a team lacking the kind of leadership they are accustomed to on the sideline and reeling badly. This has to be very, very tough for Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt to watch. It is tough for fans to watch. Is there any question how much Payton is missed now?
Here are my first takes on the Panthers 35-27 victory over the Saints.
**After leading 10-7, the Saints watched Carolina go on a 21-0 run, the decisive run of the game. It was too much to overcome.
**The loss ended a five-game winning streak against Carolina. Has the worm turned in favor of the Panthers?
**On the first drive of the game, Drew Brees was 6-of-6 for 56 yards and a touchdown. Five of the six completions went to Darren Sproles for 54 yards. That was a clear part of the game plan.
**When Brees hit Jimmy Graham on a two-yard touchdown pass, he extended his streak to 45 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass, three short of the all-time record of 48 held by the great Johnny Unitas.
**Martez Wilson was very, very good on special teams. He made three tackles, flying to the ball.
**Charles Godfrey's pick six on Brees was obviously a terrible decision by Brees. It changed the game. The Saints could have gone up and seized control early in the game. It was Godfrey's first career touchdown.
**Driving with a chance to go up 14-7, Lance Moore dropped a sure touchdown pass. On the next play, Graham dropped what likely would have been a touchdown pass. The Saints had to settle for a field goal, killing momentum. The drop by Moore came on a very good audible by Brees.
**On the 40-yard option play run by Cam Newton in the first half, Cameron Jordan bit hard and was caught inside. You have to stay home against Newton.
**Throughout the first half, the linebackers and defensive linemen were crashing down inside, taking bad angles.
**The Panthers helped the Saints by calling an ill-advised option play on fourth down and less than a foot from the Saints three-yard line in the first half. They lost yardage as Roman Harper disrupted the play. Will Smith had penetration. No sneak with Newton? Really?
**The 53-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley is a career high. He is showing no ill effects from last year's hip injury.
**Thomas Morstead, a touchback machine a year ago, had none in the first half. He improved markedly in the second half.
**On the screen pass for an easy touchdown from Newton to Stewart, it was very, very easy. The Saints, particularly Malcolm Jenkins, overpursued on the play and created a wide open field.
**Akiem Hicks was active and had one pressure on Newton. Let him play.
**If you want to note another glaring example of the Saints missing Sean Payton, when the Panthers had the ball, starting with 2:31 to play in the first half, New Orleans never utilized a timeout in hope of getting the ball back with some time remaining. Carolina scored with 16 seconds left in the half to go up by eight points. The Saints got the ball back at their own 39-yard line, good field position, but took a knee because they had just six seconds left. Coach Payton ALWAYS calls timeouts in these situations. With a little more time, Brees could have certainly gotten the Saints a field goal opportunity.
**The Saints gave up 254 yards in the first half, including 135 rushing. The Saints had 214 yards of their own, no slouch.
**On the Mike Tolbert touchdown at the end of the first half, Sedrick Ellis got pushed straight back. He is a disappointment as a first-round pick.
**Marques Colston was shutout in the first half. That cannot happen. His first catch of the game came with 53 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
**For the second straight week, Patrick Robinson dropped an interception. He later interfered with Steve Smith, setting up a Panthers score.
**On the intentional grounding by Brees, Carolina rushed just three men and two defenders got there--terrible pass protection. Brees got up limping and that is bad news.
**The linebacker play for New Orleans was deficient. What else can you say? Of course, you can say that about the entire defense, which we have already detailed.
**How long with Joseph Morgan remain on the roster? The guy cannot catch the football with any degree of consistency. His drop at the end of the third quarter was poor, very poor. The dropoff from Robert Meachem to a fourth receiver is glaring. Give Courtney Roby the opportunity.
**Everyone wanted the Saints to run the ball more. They did, with nice results, in terms of yardage. Points did not result and that is what the game is all about.
**Pierre Thomas remains the team's best all-around back. He has great balance, runs through tackles, catches the ball well, is good in the screen game and picks up blitzes well. Mark Ingram is okay but not in the same class as Thomas.
**Darren Sproles was outstanding. He had 13 catches for 128 yards and returned kicks and punts for 82 yards. He is healthy again.
**It appeared that Patrick Robinson jumped an inside receiver, totally abandoning the outside receiver, Steve Smith, on a 66-yard completion right after the Saints had pulled within eight points in the fourth quarter. Like Ellis and Jenkins, Robinson does not play like a first-round draft choice. It is not that the Saints have not invested in defense in the draft, they have simply not hit on their picks.
**Speaking of Smith, he had his 40th career 100-yard receiving game. Several have come against New Orleans.
**The cornerback position is in bad shape. While Tracy Porter nets NFL Defensive Player of the Week honors, Robinson struggles and Corey White gets torched again. Johnny Patrick is injured. It was nice to have Jabari Greer back but one solid NFL cornerback on a roster will not get it done.
**While the Panthers did not record a sack on Brees until late in the fourth quarter, they pressured him throughout, hit him frequently and knocked him down, hurting his ankle at one point.
**Receivers did not help Brees much. They had five drops on the day.
**Brees passed for 339 yards in the loss to the Redskins and passed for 325 yards in the loss to the Panthers. He has now passed for 300 or more yards in nine consecutive games.
**Through two games, the Saints have committed five turnovers, including four interceptions of Brees. They have forced just one. That is a bad trend that will not work.
**The Saints, who were so good on third down a year ago, have been poor on third and fourth down conversion attempts through two games in 2012.
**It was good to see former WGNO-TV, ABC 26 Sports anchor Kristina Pink doing sideline reports for Fox during the telecast. Kristina is a class act, a fine person who showed promise in New Orleans while contributing to Sportsnola.com. No idea why she was not retained at WGNO.
Brace yourself, Saints fans. This is going to be a bumpy road. This team will not become the first to play in a Super Bowl as a host team. There are too many glaring holes. Kansas City, a mediocre team, becomes a must win next Sunday. Along with Tom Benson, Deuce McAllister will be inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame as part of All Saints Weekend. Perhaps the Saints can coax Deuce out of retirement to help cure their malaise. On second thought, never mind. He does not play defense.
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