Panthers fall to Saints 20-17 in mistake-filled home opener

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Tuesday, September 19, 2023
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Despite an opening-week loss, Panthers fans are optimistic about the teams' prime-time home opener.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Carolina Panthers opened their home slate Monday night against the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints looking to rebound from a 24-10 opening-game loss at the Atlanta Falcons last week.

But Panthers fans left disappointed as the Saints marched out of town with a 20-17 victory.

Panthers rookie quarterback Bryce Young, the No. 1 overall pick made his Bank of America Stadium debut Monday night and it was another uneven performance that saw him harassed constantly by the Saints' pressure.

The Saints' defense held Young to 153 yards passing in his home debut. New Orleans (2-0) limited Carolina (0-2) to 239 yards and sacked Young, the top overall pick in the draft, four times.

"They play hard and very physical," Young said. "They know exactly where they are supposed to be, and they play well together. Obviously we didn't do enough offensively. ... Their defense definitely got the best of us."

Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young is back to pass against the New Orleans Saints on Monday night in Charlotte.
Jacob Kupferman

The Panthers got off to a good start, forcing a Saints punt on the game's first possession. Young then led a 9-play drive that stalled at the Saints' 34-yard line. Eddy Pineiro drilled a 52-yard field goal to give Carolina the early 3-0 lead.

The Saints responded with a 15-play, 65-yard drive and knotted the game at 3-3 on Blake Grupe's 28-yard field goal. A 23-yard field goal early in the second quarter gave the Saints a 6-3 lead.

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The Panthers had some misfortune when linebacker Shaq Thompson was carted off in the first quarter with an injury.

Carolina Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson is carted off after being hurt against the New Orleans Saints during the first half Monday in Charlotte.
Rusty Jones

Thompson had a right ankle injury that Panthers coach Frank Reich said after the game was "significant." He said Thompson is likely to miss extended time. Saints offensive lineman Trevor Penning and Panthers defensive lineman DeShawn Williams were engaged in a block and rolled up on the back of Thompson's leg as he was attempting to make a tackle.

The Panthers then failed to capitalize on a golden opportunity after safety Vonn Bell intercepted Derek Carr on a pass intended for Chris Olave

The play set the Panthers up at the Saints' 36-yard line with 3:06 left in the first half.

But on third down from the 18-yard line, Young was run down from behind and fumbled. The Saints recovered ending what would have been at least a chip-shot field-goal try to tie the game.

With the Saints near midfield, the Panthers' defense sandwiched two sacks around an incomplete pass to make sure New Orleans would not score again before halftime.

Reich knew there would be some growing pains with a rookie quarterback, but he thinks his offense is showing signs of breaking out despite totaling 27 points in two games.

"It's not that far away," Reich said. "I know it looks bad, but it's not that far away. You make a few plays and you're at 28 points."

Carr, who threw for 305 yards in the Saints' Week 1 win over Tennessee, struggled early. He had a badly underthrown interception into triple coverage and missed several other open receivers as the Saints limped into the locker room at halftime with a 6-3 lead.

In the third quarter, Pineiro showed off his strong leg yet again, hitting a 54-yard field goal to tie the game at 6-6 but the Saints countered on the ensuing possession with a strong 10-play drive from their own 25-yard line for the game's first touchdown to take a 13-6 lead. Tony Jones Jr. capped the drive with a 2-yard rushing touchdown,

Carr found Olave, who made the play of the game when he hauled in a diving one-handed grab along the left sideline late in the third quarter for a 42-yard gain. That set up Jones' yard touchdown run.

"When things aren't quite going exactly the way you want it to, you're just one explosive play away from making something happen," Saints coach Dennis Allen said. "I thought his concentration there and focus all the way through the catch point and to the ground maintaining possession was a progress for him."

The Panthers' offense finally put together a good second-half drive, starting on their 25-yard line. Young had the key play, scrambling for 26 yards on third-and-11 from his own 33. Carolina got as close as the Saints' 13-yard line, but Young, under duress all night, was sacked while scrambling to his right for a 5-yard loss. Pinerio's fourth field goal, a 36-yarder, cut the deficit to 13-9.

But once again, the Saints had an answer, taking just over 2 minutes to march down the field. Olave had another short grab leading to Jones' second TD with about three minutes to play. He finished with six catches for 86 yards. Jones finished it off with another 2-yard TD run as the Saints took a commanding 20-9 lead with 3:14 left in the game.

Jones replaced the injured Jamaal Williams late in the first half and ran for 34 yards on 12 carries.

"It was awesome," Allen said. "He was great. We ran the ball effectively. I think we blocked it up front and he made the right cuts. You know, two touchdowns on the game. It was big for him and big for us."

Carr finished with 228 yards passing and the one pick. Change-of-pace quarterback Taysom Hill was the Saints' leading rusher with 75 yards on nine carries.

To their credit, the Panthers never gave up. Young found Adam Thielen for a 3-yard touchdown catch, with the veteran receiver stretching for the pylon. The Panthers went for 2 and converted it when Young found Thielen again to make it 20-17.

The Panthers were unable to recover the ensuing onside kick and the Saints ran out the remaining time.

Young spent a good portion of the night under pressure as the offensive line struggled. Carolina couldn't get much going in the running game; Miles Sanders was limited to 43 yards rushing.

The Panthers' offensive night was marred by miscues, penalties, and mental errors.

In the third quarter, the Panthers brought in Young's backup, Andy Dalton, presumably to run a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-inches. But before Dalton could take his first snap of the season, guard Cade Mays jumped offside.

The Saints pulled even with unbeaten Atlanta and Tampa Bay atop the NFC South, while the Panthers fell into an early hole.

Carolina will travel to Seattle to play the Seahawks on Sunday. The Saints are at Green Bay on Sunday.

NOTE: Video is from a previous report.

The Associated Press contributed.