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New Orleans Saints unable to find right gear in loss to Carolina

Saints totaled six first downs and128 yards in game, allowed 5 of 7 third-down conversions in first half 

The New Orleans Saints take on the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 of the 2021 NFL season.

Charlotte, N.C. – The New Orleans Saints had done unto them that which they'd done unto another.

Namely, Carolina dominated the line of scrimmage and time of possession, as the Saints had in the regular-season opener against Green Bay, and the Saints were on the wrong end of a lopsided score (26-7) at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, as they'd accomplished against Green Bay (38-3) the previous week.

New Orleans (1-1) never got in gear offensively against the Panthers (2-0), and by the time the defense began posting stops, Carolina owned a 17-0 lead and was on its way. There weren't hordes of positives to pull from this one.

OFFENSE: Six first downs, 2 of 11 on third down, 128 yards – 43 rushing – and two turnovers won't lead to victory in the NFL. New Orleans generated next to nothing rushing (17 carries for 48 yards) and wasn't significantly better passing (80 net yards, on 11 completions). Quarterback Jameis Winston was harassed from the outset; Saints players unanimously agreed that due to poor communication, they didn't adequately handle Carolina's array of pressures. Winston was sacked four times and hit 11 times, and few quarterbacks can function well under that level of duress. They'll have to fix the communication lapses quickly, because they'll see similar pressure until they prove they can deal with it.

DEFENSE: The Saints defense had a first half that equally as ineffective as the offense, which went scoreless. In the first 30 minutes, Carolina was 5 of 7 on third down, piled up 274 yards and possessed the ball for 20:55 of the 30 minutes. New Orleans didn't apply much pressure to Carolina quarterback Sam Darnold (16 of 20 for 216 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions in the first half), and there were coverage issues as it played without cornerback Marshon Lattimore and defensive back Chauncey-Gardner Johnson. The Saints buckled down defensively in the third quarter, holding Carolina scoreless while forcing a turnover (a Malcolm Roach interception) and a punt. But the defense yielded a bit in a nine-point fourth quarter by Carolina, likely the result of being on the field for 73 plays on a warm, humid day in Charlotte.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The one unit that had a solid day all around. Deonte Harris returned five kickoffs for a 31.2-yard average, Blake Gillikin blasted a couple of punts en route to averaging 49 yards (45 net) on six punts, and defensive end Carl Granderson blocked a field-goal attempt in the third quarter to keep the deficit at 17-0. And New Orleans was its usual standout self in coverage; Carolina returned four punts for a total of 24 yards (Ty Montgomery has been impossible to not notice at gunner).

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