Mistakes cost the Carolina Panthers big on Sunday as they fell to the New Orleans Saints 31-21.
In the second quarter, the Panthers looked like they would absolutely implode.
A facemask penalty was called on left tackle Matt Kalil that forced a long third down to open the quarter. On the next series, a botched punt by Michael Palardy gave the ball right back to the Saints on Carolina’s 31. Veteran defensive end Julius Peppers was then flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on third down of the New Orleans drive, which allowed the Saints to convert and ultimately score.
Carolina rallied late in the quarter with a takeaway of its own, courtesy of safety Mike Adams, and from there the Panthers turned near disaster into a competitive game, scoring off the following drive and heading into the locker room at halftime down 21-14.
But Kamara and the Saints could not be contained. Kamara broke off a 20-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, extending the lead to 28-14.
An attempt to rally by Carolina was stalled by inches on a fourth-down conversion attempt in the fourth quarter.
Receiver Devin Funchess snagged a touchdown pass from quarterback Cam Newton with four minutes left to play, but it was too little, too late to overcome the hole dug by the Panthers’ early mistakes. Carolina managed just 115 yards of offense in the second half.
Carolina (8-4), in a race with New Orleans (9-3) for the lead in the NFC South, drops a full game behind the Saints. The Panthers return home to face the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Three who mattered
Alvin Kamara: Players seemed to bounce off Kamara as he continued to make his case for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Kamara scored New Orleans’ first touchdown of the day and scored again in the third quarter after shaking off two Panthers defenders.
Mark Ingram: Ingram broke off the longest running play Carolina has allowed all season (72 yards) early in the second quarter, and then waltzed in a touchdown run two plays later.
Mike Adams: Adams helped Carolina avoid catastrophe after a mistake-riddled start to the second quarter. The veteran safety popped the ball loose after a catch by Josh Hill, and linebacker Luke Kuechly recovered. Carolina was able to capitalize off the takeaway with a 21-yard touchdown to running back Christian McCaffrey.
▪ Sunday’s opening Panthers drive was the first time the team has scored a touchdown on its opening series this season. Jonathan Stewart leaped over the goal-line pile for the 2-yard touchdown.
▪ Linebacker Thomas Davis dealt with a hamstring injury this week and was limited throughout the game. He was rotated in and out with Shaq Thompson and David Mayo. Thompson hurt his foot late in the second quarter and had to leave the game, but was back after halftime.
▪ Defensive end Mario Addison sacked quarterback Drew Brees in the second quarter to tie the team lead in sacks with 8.5 (Peppers). Addison also had two hurries on Brees by halftime. In Carolina’s Week 3 matchup against the Saints, the Panthers’ pass rush only had four total hurries on Brees.
▪ An apparent missed offsides call on third down of Carolina’s second-half-opening series led to former Panther A.J. Klein coming through the A-gap completely unblocked. Klein sacked Newton for a loss of 13 yards.
▪ Carolina wanted to limit the Saints’ explosive play ability, but did not do so effectively throughout the game. Safety Kurt Coleman especially struggled to contain Kamara, with a missed tackle on a 25-yard run, a 20-yard touchdown and a 17-yard run.
▪ Kalil was called for a second facemask penalty in the fourth quarter. He was called on a hold on the same play, and still gave up a hit on Newton.
▪ A week after Kaelin Clay scored the Pathers’ first punt return touchdown since 2014, he fumbled a return in the fourth quarter and the Saints recovered.
▪ Panthers tight end Greg Olsen was inactive Sunday after making his return from injured reserve last week against the Jets. Center Ryan Kalil was also inactive.
▪ Third-string Saints quarterback Taysom Hill played on special teams on Sunday and made two tackles.
▪ Carolina ranked fifth in the NFL in third down conversion percentage entering Sunday’s game, but only converted three against the Saints.