Charlotte, N.C. – It's harder to win a road game in the NFL. Harder still, to win a road game against a division opponent. And hardest, to win a road game, against a division opponent, by three touchdowns.
The New Orleans Saints did all of that Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, in a 34-13 victory over Carolina that gave them their first win of the season. It was a good example of what can occur when this team plays complimentary football.
OFFENSE: New Orleans wasn't splashy, with 362 yards of offense. But it was brutally efficient in each phase, able to keep alive drives (6 of 12 on third down), score in the red zone (2 of 3), run the ball well (27 carries for 149 yards and a touchdown) and protect well against a very good defensive front (Drew Brees was sacked once while completing 22 of 29 passes, for 220 yards and three touchdowns). It wasn't a 500-yard day, but it was the best way to hammer the Panthers in a way that, frankly, mirrored the way in which the Panthers usually are able to hammer opponents.
DEFENSE: You have to love what the Saints were able to accomplish defensively, and this is the kind of performance that should give the unit confidence going forward. The Saints forced turnovers (interceptions by cornerback P.J. Williams and safeties Marcus Williams and Kenny Vaccaro), collected sacks (by defensive linemen Cam Jordan, Hau'oli Kikaha, Alex Okafor and Trey Hendrickson), swarmed the ball (two forced fumbles, five quarterback hits and six passes defensed), and kept the Panthers out of the end zone (one touchdown allowed, after allowing three in each of the first two games). Carolina was held to 288 yards and the Saints were without cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Sterling Moore. Props to cornerback Ken Crawley, who was inactive the first two games, but started on Sunday and had a team-leading nine tackles and two pass breakups.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Wil Lutz has the leg (he made a 50-yarder that could've been good from 60, and missed a 56-yarder that was wide left but was plenty long enough) to inspire confidence from distance. And punter Thomas Morstead has been outstanding this season (three punts for a 46-yard net average Sunday, with two dropped inside the 20). All the Saints really are missing is popping a return, and Ted Ginn Jr. appears pretty close to doing so. He added a 12-yard return Sunday to his 16-yarder against the Patriots; seems that it's just a matter of time before he finds a crease and goes.