By David Rogers. September 24, 2017. BOONE, NC — At least until the outcome was fully decided, Sunday’s game between the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints was a study in contrasts, the Army against the Air Force — and the Air Force clearly won.
COVER IMAGE: Ted Ginn, Jr. gets in the scoring act for the New Orleans Saints vs. the Carolina Panthers. All photographic images by Brad Batchelor for Blowing Rock News
Veteran signal caller Drew Brees completed 22 of 29 passes for 220 yards, 3 touchdowns, and nary an interception to lead the visitors from Cajun country to a convincing, 34-13 win over the host Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in front of an announced crowd (tickets distributed) of 73, 775.
At any level of football, coaches of just-defeated football teams are, at best, reluctant to talk with the media and at worst, mad as hell and refuse to appear and take questions. Carolina head coach Ron Rivera at least appeared and took questions, but the steam coming out of his ear’s was clearly “visible,” at least figuratively speaking.
“We missed opportunities,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said afterwards, not mincing words in assessing his team’s performance and seeming inability to score touchdowns. “You drive down there and end up kicking a field goal, that’s your fault. We had every opportunity to score. We missed a protection, took a sack, and had to kick a field goal.
“We came out with the purpose to win this football game, no more and no less than they (the Saints) did,” Rivera continued. “We screwed ourselves by not making plays when we had opportunities. I’ll look at this tape (and) I’ll look at us as coaches and I’ll look at the things that we did to see if we gave (our players) every opportunity to win.
“I’m looking at players,” he added. “I’m looking at who went out and did their job and who didn’t. We will make decisions and adjustments and (do) the things that need to be done. That’s the truth of the matter. I don’t think that anybody came in and played as hard as we did. We played hard. We just didn’t play smart. We didn’t play well enough to win. That’s why we got beat.”
While Carolina’s offense was mostly stumbling and bumbling its way to just 288 yards of total offense, including three interceptions of QB Cam Newton passes and two drive-disrupting fumbles, Brees was shredding the usually stingy Panther defense, distributing passes to 10 different receivers including three different receivers who recorded TDs and the New Orleans offense was rolling up 362 yards of total offense.
Brees’ favorite target was third year Ohio State alum Michael Thomas, who collected 7 of 8 targets for 87 yards and a touchdown. One of the more impressive performances on the day, though, by a WR was by former Panther Ted Ginn, Jr., who caught two passes (targeted only three times) for 44 yards and a TD. The third scorer in New Orleans’ aerial arsenal was Brandon Coleman, 4th year pro WR out of Rutgers, who caught just one pass for 11 yards, but it was for a TD.
Thomas explained to reporters later, “When your number is called, you have to make the plays. It does not matter where they line me up, I have to make the play.
“We came out with more intensity and a sense of urgency,” he added. “We attacked them. We did not let them attack us. We played confident football and made a lot of huge plays on offense and defense. That is Saints football and THAT is what we have been waiting for.”
On the home side, Rivera’s terse answers to reporters questions in the post-game press conference drew from countless mistakes in all phases of Carolina’s play.
Running back Christian McCaffrey enjoyed arguably his best game as a professional, even in the loss. He only carried the ball four times for 16 yards, but caught 9 passes for 101 yards while being targeted 11 times.
When asked about the offense’s ability to score touchdowns, McCaffrey replied, “It’s real frustrating. It happens…We’ve got to execute better in the red zone. We’ll go back to the drawing board and do what we can to fix that.”
Despite Carolina’s emphasis on the running game, especially in the first half, the Panthers only managed 132 yards on the ground for the entire game. Running back Jonathan Stewart carried the ball 12 times for 57 yards. The lone TD on the day came came when Newton dove off of left tackle from three yards out to tighten the score at 24-13 with 1:18 left in the third quarter to give the Panther faithful a ray of hope for a comeback.
After New Orleans drove 44 yards in 7 plays to increase its advantage to 27-13 with a 50-yard field goal early in the final stanza, that hope dimmed. Three plays into Carolina’s ensuing possession that hope was decisively quashed by the Saints’ rookie safety Marcus Williams, who scooped up a deflected Newton pass intended for McCaffrey before it hit the ground and secured it as he flipped to his back.
Rookie wide receiver Curtis Samuel, one of three wide receivers from Ohio State on the field Sunday (the others being Ted Ginn, Jr. and Michael Thomas) didn’t see many touches, but certainly showed a flash of his speed in the first quarter on a jet sweep around the right side, his one rushing carry for a 31-yard gain. Samuel seemed to sum up the feelings in the Panther locker room in saying, “We are upset about the loss. We didn’t want to lose. We didn’t want it to end that way, especially with a margin like that. But the only thing we can do is learn from our mistakes tomorrow (watching) film and go from there.”
SLIDESHOW By Brad Batchelor for Blowing Rock News