The "what" almost always is more significant than the "when," so even though the momentum changer happened in the first quarter, it still loomed large enough to help sway the entirety of the game for the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, in their 22-14 loss to Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
The Panthers hadn't shown any punch offensively on their first two drives, gaining 19 yards on seven plays and punting twice.
The Saints didn't score on their first possession, but that largely was attributable to self-infliction: a promising drive that began at the New Orleans 11-yard line advanced to the Carolina 36, and included a third-down conversion, before stalling out on third-and-5 because a 17-yard completion was wiped off due to an illegal chop block.
So, the Saints' punt was sandwiched between Carolina punts before New Orleans took possession again.
New Orleans Saints players in action during their 2022 Week 3 game against the Carolina Panthers.
That drive began at the Saints' 30 and quickly moved to the 45 when the Panthers were penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness on second down. But the good feelings ended there.
On first-and-10 with 5:44 left in the first, New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara tried a run off right tackle. Panthers linebacker Frankie Luvu met him two yards behind the line of scrimmage, and as Kamara twisted in an attempt to free himself, Luvu yanked out the football. Defensive end Marquis Haynes scooped the loose ball at the Saints' 44, and rumbled untouched to the end zone for a touchdown with 5:32 left in the quarter.
The spark the Panthers desperately needed was provided, early, in the form of a 7-0 lead courtesy of a defensive touchdown. The jump-start New Orleans desperately sought was erased, early.
The uphill battle the Saints dealt with for the remainder of the game was one that they never were able to overcome. They managed to close the deficit to six, at 13-7 with 12:31 left in the fourth quarter, but allowed a 67-yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage after their score to erase that progress.