CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - The Carolina Panthers need to get their offense moving before it’s too late to make another playoff run this season.
In a game to determine the NFC South lead, the Panthers sputtered to 231 yards and didn’t build any momentum when their defense was opportunistic early.
The struggles sent them to a 28-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night, their second straight game with 10 or fewer points.
“We’ve just got to make plays at the end of the day,” said receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who couldn’t hold onto a catchable ball in the opening quarter while taking a hit inside the Saints 10. “That’s what it’s about, and we didn’t do enough of that tonight.”
Actually, the Panthers haven’t done that nearly enough for three straight games.
Since a 37-37 tie at Cincinnati in Week 6, the Panthers fell behind 28-3 at the half of a 38-17 loss at Green Bay, settled for two short field goals early in last week’s 13-9 home loss to Seattle, then fell behind 14-0 by halftime against the Saints.
“Everybody’s looking for a magic play,” said Cam Newton, who misfired on 18 of 28 passes and threw for 151 yards. “Everybody’s looking for somebody to say something, for somebody to do something and take responsibility for themselves. I know I am. I need to be better.”
For the Saints, the performance proved they know how to win big games on the road.
Drew Brees overcame a shaky start and threw for one touchdown and ran for another as the Saints (4-4) piled up 375 yards to snap a seven-game losing streak on the road that dated back to last November.
Brees finished 24 of 34 for 297 yards and Mark Ingram turned in another solid performance with 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Brees threw an interception and fumbled in the first quarter before settling down late in the second.
The Saints’ defense sacked Newton four times and forced two turnovers.
Newton spent much of the night under heavy duress playing behind an offensive line without three of its regular starters.
New Orleans pushed inside the Carolina 15-yard line on the game-opening drive before Brees’ pass for Kenny Stills was deflected to Panthers defensive lineman Dwan Edwards for the interception.
Then, after the Saints forced a punt, Brees quickly pushed the Saints to midfield only to have Carolina’s Charles Johnson push fullback Erik Lorig into him and knock the ball loose as he looked downfield for a fumble.
However, Newton and the Panthers couldn’t take advantage and were forced to punt after both turnovers.
“It’s hard when you don’t take advantage of those opportunities,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
New Orleans didn’t have the same problem.
With the Panthers pinned back in their own end, Junior Galette sacked Newton from behind and stripped the ball, allowing linebacker Curtis Lofton to recover at the Carolina 3. Ingram took advantage two plays later with a 3-yard run to give the Saints a 7-0 lead.
Then, after forcing a three-and-out, Brees directed an 85-yard drive that ended when he slipped a 1-yard pass just past Melvin White to Jimmy Graham on the right side with 3 seconds left in the half and New Orleans was off and running while the Panthers (3-5-1) headed to the locker room serenaded by a chorus of boos.
One of the few highlights for the Panthers came from Newton.
He turned in one of the most athletic plays of the season when he scrambled out of the pocket, raced around the left end and took off from the 5-yard line and soared toward the goal line with the ball outstretched in his right hand for a touchdown, cutting the Saints lead to 14-7.