After a 23-10 win at the Jacksonville Jaguars, the New Orleans Saints (3-1) go back out on the road to face the Carolina Panthers (1-3) in their season's first NFC South matchup.
A balanced offense, attacking defense and efficient special teams spurred the Saints to their third straight win.
New Orleans ran for 177 yards, their highest total since the middle of the 2010 season, led by RB Darren Sproles, who carried seven times for 75 yards (10.7 avg). QB Drew Brees completed 31-of-44 passes for 351 yards with one TD to TE Jimmy Graham who had a career day with a ten catches for 132 yards, including a 59-yard grab.
The defense harassed Jaguars rookie QB Blaine Gabbert into completing only 16-of-42 passes for 196 yards with one TD and one interception. DE Will Smith had two sacks, while S Roman Harper added a take-down and a team-high eight tackles (five solo). CB Patrick Robinson intercepted his first NFL pass to help set up a third quarter field goal.
The Saints face a stiff challenge from a rejuvenated Panthers team under first-year coach Ron Rivera that is ranked third in the NFL offensively behind the arm of QB Cam Newton and the hands of WR Steve Smith.
While the NFL's second-ranked offense has been a key ingredient in the 3-1 start, several factors have played a role. New Orleans is one of only three teams ranked in the top 10 both running and passing. An improved run defense is ranked ninth in the NFL. Special teams have been aided by solid performances in the kicking game on returns and coverage. The kickoff and punt return units are ranked in the top ten in the league rankings, while punt coverage has bottled up opposing returners for a 2.0 average, ranked first in the NFL.
GAMEDAY AT A GLANCE
DATE: Sunday, Oct. 9
TIME: 12:00 (CT)
SITE: Bank of America Stadium
*The Panthers lead the Saints in the all-time series 17-15.
*New Orleans had their first series sweep of the Panthers since 2001 in 2010.
*RB Darren Sproles leads the NFL with 716 all-purpose yards.
*The game will feature the last two Heisman Trophy winners in Saints RB Mark Ingram (2009) and Panthers QB Cam Newton (2010).
*The Saints have averaged 31.8 points per game to rank fifth in the NFL.
*New Orleans is ranked second in the NFL in offense (10th rushing, 2nd passing) and 15th on defense (9th rushing, 20th passing).
*Sunday's contest will be regionally televised on FOX (WVUE-8 in the New Orleans area) with Dick Stockton handling play-by-play, John Lynch serving as color analyst and Jennifer Hale as sideline reporter.
*The game can be heard throughout the Gulf Coast on the Saints Radio Network (870 AM or 105.3 FM serve as the flagship stations locally in the New Orleans area) with Jim Henderson handling play-by-play duties, Hokie Gajan serving as color analyst and Kristian Garic reporting from the Saints sideline.
*A Spanish language broadcast is available on WFNO 830 AM with Victor Quinonez handling play-by-play duties and Marco Garcia serving as the color analyst.