One spectacular play seemed to change the Monday Night Football game between the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium.
That play, from Saints receiver Chris Olave, helped New Orleans to a 20-17 win and might have done some serious damage to Carolina’s season, just two weeks into the campaign.
“Tough loss,” Panthers coach Frank Reich said. “We’ve just got to own every bit of it. We’ve got to learn from it and we’ve got to get better. Obviously, I thought the defense really played well, kept us in the game for a long time for a long time. I was encouraged. It was 6-3 at halftime and you feel like we’re struggling on (offense) and we were behind the sticks all the time...We’re talking in there for a little bit, not with the team, but just talking with a couple of guys. I’ve seen this before. It’s not that far away. It looks bad but really I don’t believe it’s that far away.”
With the game tied at 6 in the second half, the Panthers seemed to have the Saints’ offense figured out. But on third down, New Orleans QB Derek Carr threw a deep pass towards Olave, who was covered well by Carolina defensive back CJ Henderson.
Henderson made a play for the ball as it arrived but Olave found it with one hand and brought it in with the other.
The play gave New Orleans the ball at the Carolina 30, and momentum seemed to shift. The Saints went on to polish off a punishing drive that went 10 plays and 75 yards and lasted more than six minutes.
On a night where Bryce Young and the Carolina offense just couldn’t get going, Olave’s play and Tony Jones’ subsequent touchdown were daggers.
Carolina did put together a potentially game-tying drive in the fourth quarter, sparked by a 26-yard scramble by Young on first down. But once Carolina got into the red zone, the run game didn’t work and Young was sacked for a 6-yard loss on third down. Eddy Pineiro made his third field goal of the game, and the Panthers trailed 13-9.
But New Orleans put the game away when it got the ball back, after Derek Carr hit Rashid Shaheed on another long pass play to get deep into Carolina territory. Shaheed laid a wicked double move on Panthers defensive back Donte Jackson to get open.
A few plays later, Tony Jones scored on a short run for two-score lead.
Carolina did answer with a 75-yard scoring drive, playing against soft defense from New Orleans. Young hit Adam Thielen with a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion to get within three. But New Orleans recovered the onside kick to effectively end the game.
The Panthers fall to 0-2 in an NFC South where New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa Bay are all 2-0. It’s going to be a mighty uphill struggle to get back in the divisional race.
Carolina came in with injuries on the offensive line and sustained another when starting linebacker Shaq Thompson had his leg rolled up on and was taken off in a cart. Reich said Thompson suffered a significant ankle injury and would miss time.
▪ Carolina was out-gained 334-235 and 75 of those yards came on the final possession against a New Orleans team willing to give up yards to make the Panthers use the clock.
▪ New Orleans QB Derek Carr was 21-of-36 for 228 yards. He was sacked four times. The Saints rushed for 134 yards on 33 carries, averaging 4.1 yards. Taysom Hill ran nine times for 75 yards.
▪ Young finished 22-of-33 for 153 yards and a touchdown. His receivers rarely created separation and he was under constant pressure. The Panthers ran 19 times for 100 yards, led by Young (2-for-34) and Miles Sanders (14-43).
▪ On defense, Frankie Luvu had a monster game for Carolina with a team-high nine total tackles, which included two sacks and three tackles for a loss. Xavier Woods had eight tackles and CJ Henderson and Derek Brown had seven.
Saints 20, Panthers 17, 4th quarter
After the Saints went up 20-9, Young led the Panthers on a 75-yard drive against a New Orleans defense that was playing a soft zone. Young hit Adam Thielen with a short touchdown pass and Young hit Thielen on a two-point conversion with 1:16 to play.
Saints 20, Panthers 9, 4th quarter
Up 13-9, on third down, Derek Carr hit Rashid Shaheed with one of the biggest passes of the game. Shaheed put a double move on Donte Jackson and New Orleans got to the Carolina 35. On the next play, Taysom Hill ran a QB power around the end inside the 20. A few plays after, Tony Jones scored on a 2-yard run.
Saints 13, Panthers 9, 4th quarter
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers put together a drive.
On third down and long, down 13-6, Panthers QB Bryce Young scrambled 26 yards up the middle, avoiding a sack. Along the way, he faked out New Orleans Marcus Maye, eventually running to the New Orleans 41 before he slid.
A pass interference on New Orleans’ Paulson Adebo on DJ Chark moved the ball to the Saints 20. Later, on third-and-3 at the Saints 13, Young was sacked by Demario Davis. That led to another field goal and the Saints led 13-9 with 5:30 to play.
Saints 13, Panthers 6, 3rd quarter
A long pass from Derek Carr to Chris Olave, on third down, got New Orleans at the Carolina 30. Olave made a pretty catch over CJ Henderson. That play seemed to swing momentum to the Saints, who continued the drive and scored a few plays later on a short run from Tony Jones.
New Orleans led 13-6 after a 10-play, 75-yard drive that lasted more than six minutes.
Panthers 6, Saints 6, 3rd quarter
After a Carolina punt pinned New Orleans deep, the Panthers defense forced a 3-and-out. A 12-yard punt return gave the Panthers the ball at the New Orleans’ 41.
On fourth and inches at the 31, Andy Dalton came in for Bryce Young and Carolina was flagged for a 5-yard penalty for illegal motion. That forced a field goal attempt. Eddy Piñeiro made a career-long field goal of 54 yards to tie the game at 6.
There’s 9:09 left in the third quarter.
Carolina catches big break to start third quarter
The Panthers caught a big break to star the second half. Saints defensive lineman Bryan Bresee started the second half with what could have been the play of the game so far, stripping Panthers QB Bryce Young on third down. It would’ve given the Saints the ball in the scoring zone.
But a penalty on the play gave Carolina the ball back, and the Panthers eventually punted.
Panthers trail at halftime
New Orleans dominated the first half, getting 12 first downs to four and 139 total yards to 85. But the Panthers’ defense kept Carolina in the game, getting three sacks of Derek Carr.
New Orleans led 6-3 at halftime.
Carr was 13-of-26 for 102 yards. New Orleans ran 15 times for 59 yards.
Carolina QB Bryce Young was 8-for-13 for 66 yards and Miles Sanders ran seven times for 22 yards.
That was it.
Fumble ends scoring opportunity for the Panthers
Carolina’s Vonn Bell got an interception off Derek Carr with 3:06 left in the second quarter and gave a struggling Panthers offense the ball in Saints territory.
On third-and-6 at the 18, Panthers QB Bryce Young tried to scramble and was stripped from behind by Saints defensive lineman Carl Granderson and the Saints eventually got the ball at the 41 with less than two minutes to play.
Carolina lost a chance to tie the game.
Saints 6, Panthers 3, 2nd quarter
After a good punt return gave New Orleans good field position, the Saints drove down the field, assisted by a 19-yard pass play from Derek Carr to Michael Thomas on third-and-9 to get into the red zone.
But the Panthers defense stiffened inside the 10 and forced another short field goal from Blake Grupe with 9:55 left in the second quarter. The 23-yard attempt gave the Saints a lead.
Saints 3, Panthers 3, 1st quarter
New Orleans answered Carolina’s initial score with a group drive of its own. New Orleans drove 68 yards in 15 plays before the drive stalled.
Blake Grupe, a former Notre Dame player, kicked a short 28-yard field goal to improve to 4-of-4 for the season.
▪ The teams ended the first quarter tied at 3.
Shaq Thompson injured for the Panthers
With 2:35 left in the first quarter and New Orleans driving, Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson tackled New Orleans running QB Taysom Hill and stayed down on the field, grasping his lower right leg. Saints lineman Trevor Penning fell on the back of his leg. Thompson was taken off on a cart with an apparent lower leg injury and is doubtful to return.
Panthers 3, Saints 0, 1st quarter
After a stop by the Carolina defense on New Orleans’ first possession, Bryce Young and the Panthers’ offense moved the ball fairly well, until a penalty in Saints territory slowed them down.
Ultimately, the drive stalled and Eddy Piñeiro made his 20th straight field goal, a 52-yarder, with 7:04 left to give Carolina an early lead.
How to watch
▪ The 58th meeting between the Saints and Panthers kicks off at 7:15 p.m. It’ll be the first time the Panthers have played on Monday Night Football since 2018.
The game is available on ESPN on cable as well as over-the-air in the Charlotte market on WSOC, Channel 9. It will also be available, over-the-air on TV64 in the Charlotte market.
That’s Channel 64 over antenna, Channels 10 or 1230 on Spectrum or Channel 64 on DirecTV. Over on Channel 9, the local ABC affiliate and Channel 64’s sister station, Monday’s Steelers-Browns game will air at 8:15 p.m.
You can also listen to Monday’s Panthers game on the radio on WRFX 99.7 FM.
Pregame thoughts from our Panthers beat writers
Mike Kaye and Alex Zietlow offer thoughts on Monday’s game before kickoff.
— Alex Zietlow (@alexzietlow05) September 18, 2023
Who’s winning on Monday Night Football?
The Observer’s Scott Fowler and Mike Kaye are 1-0 in Panthers predictions for the season. Alex Zielow and Langston Wertz Jr. are 0-1.
CBS Sports: Pete Prisco of CBS has the New Orleans Saints triumphing in Week 2, dominating 24-16.
Bleacher Report: Seven of the publication’s eight NFL experts have the Saints winning this one. Brad Gagnon is the only one with faith in Carolina.
New York Times: Emmanuel Morgan has the Saints winning this one, too, citing Bryce Young’s first matchup with a great Saints secondary and Jaycee Horn’s troublesome hamstring injury.
The Ringer: Sheil Kapadia chose the Saints as an “emotional hedge” after opting to go with the Panthers in Week 1 and getting burned for it. Fair enough.