The Saints held the Panthers to 239 total yards of offense and put this year’s first overall draft pick, Bryce Young, under pressure all night long, limiting the rookie quarterback to just 153 passing yards and one touchdown on 22-of-33 attempts and sacking him on four occasions.
Despite coming away with the win, Derek Carr and the Saints also struggled at times moving the ball, particularly in the first half, on a night where the defenses ran the show.
“It was a good win for us,” New Orleans head coach Dennis Allen said afterwards. “Obviously, starting the season off 2-0 and getting a divisional win I think is huge. Certainly, it wasn’t as clean as we would like it to be, but at the same time, I saw some improvement in a few areas.
“We’re just going to have to be able to keep working and keep grinding and keep continuing to get better but as we do that to be able to get wins along the way is a good problem to have.”
A cagey affair
Neither team was able to make significant inroads on the other early on and both were forced to settle for field goals, with the scoreline sitting at 6-3 heading into the halftime break.
The second quarter was one to forget for both signal callers. Young was unable to make up much ground and almost turned the ball over 30 seconds in. Meanwhile, Carr was picked off late in the quarter by Vonn Bell, putting Carolina in possession in New Orleans’ territory.
The Panthers were unable to capitalize on the resulting drive, however. Young was a victim of a strip sack on third-and-six to hand the ball back to the Saints.
Carr was sacked twice on consecutive snaps inside the final minute of the half to cap off a nightmare second period for both squads.
The game was crying out for a spark and it was eventually provided by Saints wide receiver Chris Olave in the third quarter.
The 23-year-old tipped the ball to himself while stretching before grabbing it on a dive for an early contender for catch of the season, providing the Saints with a gain of 41 yards. New Orleans was finally able to convert, with running back Tony Jones Jr. muscling home for a touchdown from close range.
Jones picked up another rushing touchdown in the fourth to extend the Saints’ lead, while the end zone continued to elude the Panthers.
Young did eventually find Adam Thielen late on in the final quarter for a touchdown and a two-point conversion, but it proved to be too little, too late as it turned out to be Carolina’s final possession of the game. The Saints recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock to hold on for the win.
The season is still Young
It has not been the best start to NFL life for Bryce Young, whose team is now 0-2. He struggled against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1 and was ineffective at times against the Saints.
Despite this early adversity, the rookie took responsibility after the game and detailed his desire to get better.
“There’s a lot of things I can improve on, there’s a lot of things I can get better at,” he said. “We have to do a better job … we all want to look in the mirror and grow.”
“As a unit, we need to do a better job and that starts with me.”
The Panthers will be hoping to produce a better display on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, but they will have to do it without linebacker Shaq Thompson, who is expected to miss time with a “significant” knee injury, according to head coach Frank Reich.
‘There’s so much that we have to clean up’
Carr was looking replicate his Week 1 performance that saw him throw for 305 yards against the Tennessee Titans but made a handful of mistakes before halftime, missing his receivers several times and often looking visibly frustrated.
The Saints escaped with the victory but the veteran quarterback, who arrived in New Orleans during the offseason, acknowledges there is room for improvement.
“There is a lot of work that needs to be done, we had a few opportunities for sure,” Carr said after the game. “There’s so much that we have to clean up, but it feels so good to clean it up when you win.
“We are 2-0 and I don’t think that we played at the level that we are all expecting to play at yet, but we are going to keep striving, keep working and make those corrections.”
Carr and company will be looking iron out these flaws when they take on the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.