Close But No Cigar in Carolina / Saints Win Over-time Thriller in Primetime

By Jeremy R. Johnson


To say the New Orleans Saints have had a tumultuous season would be an understatement. Coming into the week three showdown with Carolina, the Saints had lost their first two contests to the Cardinals and Buccaneers respectively, and had the looks of a team that would soon lose a third. Throw in the fact that Drew Brees would be missing a start due to injury for the first time since high school, and the team’s battle against the 2-0 Panthers becomes that more daunting.

The Panthers and Saints both came into this week three match-up missing their best players. Luke Kuechly of Carolina was out due to a concussion, and New Orleans’ Drew Brees was out due to a bruised rotator cuff. New Orleans started backup quarterback Luke McCown, who had not taken a starting snap since 2012. McCown played three-and-a-half quarters of inspired and efficient football on the day. He was decisive with his throws, and the offensive line pass protected about as well as they had this season. The veteran signal caller completed 31 of 38 passes, for 310 yards and an interception. McCown did an excellent job of simply taking what the defense gave him, and didn’t try to force the issue. He was just as efficient with his legs as he was with his throws, routinely getting on the perimeter to make throwing lanes for a receiving core that has had problems separating from defenders. He nearly orchestrated a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, but the comeback bid was put to rest by Carolina cornerback Josh Norman, who made a sensational leaping interception in the end zone while in coverage on Brandin Cooks. The Saints’ running game has yet to churn out a signature performance, and this day was no different. Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson combined for a pedestrian 62 yards, on 21 carries, for an average of 2.7 yards per carry. This was the offense’s best outing of the year, but as usual, their effort was squandered by the team’s defensive inabilities.

Carolina rolled into the regular season with several question marks on offense after losing their number one receiver to an ACL tear in training camp. There were questions abound about how the Panthers would overcome the lack of proven playmakers at receiver. That question was answered against the Saints in the form of Greg Olsen. Olsen is no slouch after being selected to the Pro Bowl last year, and he routinely torched the Saints’ secondary, especially Brandon Browner. Olsen scored two touchdowns on eight receptions, for 134 yards, averaging 16.8 yards per reception. The Saints were just as horrible defending the run. The Panthers rushed for 119 net rushing yards on the day, and surrendered 33 of those yards to fleet-footed Cam Newton. In addition to the rushing yardage, Cam also scored a touchdown.

The youth movement on defense has had its share of highs and lows, and the offense is not putting up points at an astronomical rate as it had in the past. It has all led to a 0-3 start for the Black and Gold. The Saints will welcome the injured Dallas Cowboys into the Dome, for a Sunday Night football contest in prime time. Dallas has injuries to its starting quarterback, and number-one wide receiver. There could not be a more opportune time for the Saints to get its first win of the season.

After missing the previous week with an injury, Drew Brees returned to lead his team in prime time against the Dallas Cowboys. Brees returned in spectacular fashion, throwing for 359 yards on 33 of 41 passing, with two touchdowns. The Saints pulled out a much-needed overtime victory against the hated Cowboys. The offense was very balanced for the most part on the evening, and Mark Ingram rushed for 77 yards on 17 carries. It was his backfield mate, C.J. Spiller, who ultimately stole the show in overtime.

The Saints’ defense had allowed the Cowboys to tie the score at 20 all, when Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense put together a late drive with 1:52 remaining and no time-outs. Once in field goal range, kicker Zach Hocker banged the potential game-winning field goal off the left upright, and the kick was no good.

In overtime the Black and Gold would receive the ball first, and would never give it back to Dallas. In the shortest overtime game in regular season history, C.J. Spiller would take a wheel-route pass some 80 yards to pay dirt. This gave the Saints its first victory of 2015, and quarterback Drew Brees his 400th career touchdown pass, making him one of five quarterbacks in NFL history to accomplish this feat, and being the fastest to do so.

Up next, the Saints face the reeling Philadelphia Eagles in Philly. Will the team ride the wave of positive momentum onto the road? Or will the young Saints defense be just what the doctor ordered for the Eagles’ struggling offense?

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