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New Orleans Saints face newcomer at quarterback for Carolina in regular-season finale

Michael Thomas within reach of another Saints receiving record

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The homework has begun, but there isn't much reference from which to draw for the New Orleans Saints defense.

Carolina will start Kyle Allen at quarterback Sunday, when the Panthers play the Saints (13-2) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the regular-season finale for both teams. And there isn't much information in the file to study.

Allen is Carolina's third starter in as many games.

Cam Newton started against New Orleans two games ago in a 12-9 loss, then was shut down for the season due to a shoulder injury. Taylor Heinicke started against Atlanta in a 24-10 loss, injured his elbow during the game, left for a couple of series and returned, then was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. Allen, who replaced Heinicke against Atlanta and completed all four pass attempts for 38 yards, was making his NFL debut.

The undrafted rookie played at Texas A&M for two years before transferring to Houston, sitting out a year as a redshirt, and playing one season before entering the NFL.

He signed with the Panthers after the draft, was waived Sept. 1 and signed to the practice squad the next day, released Sept. 10, re-signed to the practice squad Oct. 30, then was promoted to the active roster Dec. 20 as Heinicke's backup.

Saints Coach Sean Payton said that, mostly, Allen's preseason work will be the most extensive NFL film on him. However, there's no expectation that Carolina totally will undergo an offensive makeover due to the change.

"I think you have to (go to the preseason tape) and then, most importantly, you have to defend the offense and what you're seeing from a scheme standpoint – what you're seeing in the run game, passing game, third downs," Payton said. "I'm sure there'll be some tweaks; any time you're changing players at that position, there almost always is. And yet, at this stage of the season, you have to look at the entirety of what they've done offensively."

What the Panthers (6-9) have done best is run the football. Carolina averages 135 rushing yards per game, fourth-most in the league, accounting for 36.2 percent of their yards.

Allen's limited experience would seem to lend itself to that, but there are no guarantees. In 24 games at Texas A&M and Houston, Allen completed 358 of 580 passes for 4,283 yards and 37 touchdowns, with 18 interceptions.

"Kyle had an opportunity to come in and play for a little bit of a quarter, and (I) thought he did a nice job," Panthers Coach Ron Rivera said. "I thought his decision-making was good, I thought he threw some nice balls. He took pretty good control – it was kind of interesting to watch him, though. He has a tendency to walk towards the bench to get the signals, and we don't have to signal anymore 'cause they've got the helmet (radio) hooked up. I think that's a little something he'll have to learn and get used to."

Said Payton: "He's smart, he locates the ball well and I think that quickly, we're going to have to watch as much tape on him as possible. We were just talking about him in the staff room. (He had) limited snaps this past weekend. What did the preseason look like, and then go back and read the reports."

FOR THE RECORD: Payton said there were several reasons why the Saints will be looking to win Sunday, rather than cruise out the regular season. "No. 1, it's our job," he said. "We've got a chance to win more games in the regular season than any team in Saints history.

"No. 2, it's not like when you're playing in the preseason. You have 90 players and you begin to look at how you want to sit all these different players. You can't do that. You have 46 on game day, coming out of your 53. So any time you line up to play, and any time we prepare to play, there's really only one way to go about doing that. I think there's a lot at stake relative to some individuals, but also the evaluation process and then also as a team, being able to hit that 14th win. I think that's a lot (of reasons)."

Among the possible individual marks: Running back Alvin Kamara is one touchdown away from setting a franchise single-season mark of 19; receiver Michael Thomas has 1,376 receiving yards, 24 short of topping Joe Horn's single-season mark of 1,399, set in 2004; quarterback Drew Brees is eight passing yards short of reaching 4,000 for the 13th consecutive season; and defensive end Cam Jordan (12 sacks) and linebacker Demario Davis (five) are one sack away from tying a career high (Jordan) and setting a new career high (Davis).

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