Charlotte, N.C. – Coach Sean Payton has been known to say, after a defeat, that there were many dirty hands involved. In the aftermath of Sunday's 34-13 victory over Carolina at Bank of America Stadium, the New Orleans Saints' first victory of the season, there were a lot of clean ones. The Saints weren't perfect, but to go on the road and beat an NFC South Division opponent by three touchdowns showed some of the things that the Saints are capable of doing when there are clean hands galore. A few players who stood out among many:
OFFENSE: There won't be many weeks where this honor can't be bestowed upon Drew Brees, the Hall of Fame-bound quarterback who was masterful Sunday (22 of 29 for 220 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions). But receiver Michael Thomas helped the offense set the tone that resulted in four touchdowns, 6 of 12 conversions on third down, and 2 for 3 in the red zone. Thomas caught seven passes for 87 yards and a touchdown and on the first drive, he was a beast – five catches for 50 yards (including two on third down) and a 5-yard score in which he muscled through a defensive pass interference to come through with his first touchdown of the season. Thomas has all the No. 1 receiver qualities (strength, speed, want-the-ball) and the Panthers saw them first-hand.
DEFENSE: When a unit holds the opponent to a touchdown, two field goals and less than 300 yards (288, to be exact), it has done its job, and then some. The Saints were fantastic defensively against the Panthers, and there were a plethora of play-makers to choose from. Defensive linemen Cam Jordan (seven tackles, two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss), Hau'oli Kikaha (a tackle for loss and quarterback hit), Alex Okafor (five tackles and a forced fumble) and Trey Hendrickson (two tackles and a forced fumble) each had a sack. And cornerback P.J. Williams and safeties Marcus Williams and Kenny Vaccaro each had an interception, plus Vaccaro had five tackles and two passes defensed. But tip the helmet to cornerback Ken Crawley, who, after being inactive the first two games, started at right cornerback for a depleted position group and made a team-high nine tackles (including a tackle for loss) and had two pass breakups. Crawley epitomized professionalism; he was ready for his turn and preparing even while he wasn't playing, and it showed on the field Sunday. He earned any and all snaps he will get against Miami next Sunday in London.
SPECIAL TEAMS: There aren't many more ways to describe how good punter Thomas Morstead has been, and continues to be into this season. He had another banner day against Carolina – three punts, two downed inside the 20, for a 50-yard gross average and a 46-yard net. He does his job as well and as reliably as anyone on the team does their job.