Charlotte, N.C. - Quarterback Luke McCown turned in a strong perfomance starting in place of an injured Drew Brees but he couldn't lead the New Orleans Saints to their first victory as the Carolina Panthers prevailed 27-22 on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
The loss dropped the Saints to 0-3 and the Panthers stayed atop the NFC South at 3-0.
McCown led the Saints into Panthers territory with less than two minutes to play but his pass for Brandin Cooks was picked off in the end zone by cornerback Josh Norman.
McCown was decisive and accurate in his first start since 2011 going 31 for 38 for 310 yards but he couldn't hit anything deep and did not throw a touchdown pass. The Saints scored on a 2-yard Khiry Robinson run, a 5-yard Mark Ingram run and a 74-yard punt return by rookie Marcus Murphy. It was the Saints' first punt return for a touchdown since 2011.
Carolina quarterback Cam Panther turned in another strong game for the Panthers, completing 20 of 31 passes for 315 yards and two touchdown passes to tight end Greg Olsen. The Carolina tight end had a big game with eight catches for 134 yards and the two TDs. Newton also had a 13-yard touchdown run for Carolina's final points.
Ingram led the Saints in rushing with 50 yards on 14 carries. Cooks was the team's leading receiver with seven catches for 79 yards. Tight end Ben Watson had four catches for 42 yards but also lost a fumble in the second half.
The Saints lost the turnover battle 2-0 and were penalized eight times for 55 yards. They were 7 of 12 on third down. The Panthers were 5 of 11 on third down and penalized 10 times for 88 yards.