Playing in the Superdome and
coming off a 13-day rest that included a four-day respite from practice thanks
to their bye, they were hungry to get a win and eager for a fresh start heading
into the final 13 games of the season.
But after playing better on offense and defense for three quarters on Sunday,
the fourth quarter did them in in a heartbreaking 16-13 loss to Carolina. The
Panthers dodged a bullet early in the final period, when they could have gone
down by 10 or 14 points, then scored 10 to claim the win.
Unlike the first three games, when they let things get out of hand much earlier,
the Saints had a win squarely in their sights. Which, quarterback Drew Brees said,
will make things tougher to come back from this time because of the way it happened.
"This game was in the bag and we let it out of the bag," said Brees,
who threw two more interceptions and now has one touchdown and nine picks in four
games. "The other three, we got beat. We just got beat. Today, we gave it
This time, the culprit was red-zone efficiency. The struggling Saints offense
put together drives of 12, 19 and 24 plays, with two of them lasting more than
10 minutes, yet managed to get just six points out of them.
The toughest to take was a 24-play, 93-yard drive that took 10:22 off the clock
at the end of the third quarter and the early part of the fourth period. With
a 13-6 lead at that point, the Saints needed a field goal to force the sputtering
Panthers to score twice to tie the game. But the Saints got nothing when Olindo Mare's 20-yard field-goal try was blocked by Julius Peppers.
That led to a Panthers touchdown, then several blunders on the Saints part, and
finally, John Kasay's game-winning 52-yard field goal as time expired.
In addition to the blocked field goal, the Saints had a touchdown negated by an
illegal-formation penalty on left tackle Jammal Brown because he was lined up
too far behind the line of scrimmage.
"If we continue to make the dumb mistakes, drop as many passes, penalize
ourselves on big plays, not take advantage of field position, then it's hard for
that result to change," coach Sean Payton said. "To watch that game
unfold the way that it did and for us to be sitting here with a loss is sickening."
--The Saints are 0-4 for the first time since 1996, which was Jim Mora's final
season as the team's head coach, going into Sunday night's nationally televised
game at Seattle. Under Mora, the winningest coach in franchise history, the
Saints started 0-5 in both 1995 and '96. They rallied in 1995 to finish 7-9,
but struggled to a 3-13 mark in 1996 after Mora stepped aside after eight games.
--Saints strongside linebacker Scott Fujita missed a game for the first time
in his six-year NFL career when he did not suit up for Sunday's contest with
the Carolina Panthers. Fujita's string of 86 consecutive games played (counting
playoffs) ended because of a sprained right ankle, which he sustained in the
team's last game with the Tennessee Titans. Fujita said he tested the ankle
three hours before kickoff but he and medical personnel decided he wasn't 100
"I would have hurt the team even worse if I would've played," Fujita
said. Fujita said in August he had never even missed an exhibition game before
suffering a freak heel injury during a team outing to a water park in training
camp. That forced him to miss the final three preseason games.
--Fujita was replaced in the starting lineup by veteran Brian Simmons, whom
the Saints signed during the offseason after he was waived by the Cincinnati Bengals. It was Simmons' first start for the Saints. He had two solo tackles
and an assist in the team's 16-13 loss to the Panthers.
To add depth to the roster at the position, the Saints signed Marvin Mitchell,
a seventh-round draft pick this spring, from the practice squad prior to the
game. The Saints waived quarterback Tyler Palko to make room on the roster for
--All-Pro left tackle Jammal Brown was removed from the game by coach Sean Payton
late in the second quarter after he was penalized for lining up too far behind
the line of scrimmage. The five-yard illegal-formation penalty, which was for
not having enough players on the line of scrimmage, negated a 10-yard TD pass
from Drew Brees to running back Aaron Stecker. Instead of taking a 10-6 lead
to halftime, the Saints settled for a field goal and a 6-6 tie.
Brown was replaced for three plays by second-year pro Zach Strief, but started
the second half and played the remainder of the game. "I thought I was
on the line," Brown said. "I was in my normal stance."
--Going into Sunday's game, the Saints were one of two teams that had not scored
in the first quarter. They finally scratched that when Olindo Mare kicked a
25-yard field goal with 3:27 to play in the opening period. The only other team
to enter play on Sunday without any first-quarter points was the Kansas City Chiefs. They failed to score against the Jacksonville Jaguars and now have been
shut out in the first quarter of five games.
--In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Saints made Kelly Martin,
the wife of backup quarterback Jamie Martin and a breast cancer survivor, an
honorary captain for Sunday's game.
Saints coaches, management and game personnel wore pink ribbon pins and players
used pink towels on the sideline to help support breast cancer awareness.
--The Saints are now 8-11 all-time after a bye and 0-2 under Payton.
--SLB Scott Fujita did not play Sunday against the Carolina Panthers because
of a sprained right ankle. His status for this week's game with the Seattle Seahawks will be determined later in the week.
--SLB Brian Simmons started in place of Fujita against the Panthers.
--DT Kendrick Clancy missed his second straight game with a turf toe injury
and his availability for Sunday was not known Monday.
--S Jay Bellamy, who has been bothered by a sprained left ankle, did not play
against the Panthers and will be re-evaluated on Wednesday.
--RCB Jason David did not play against the Panthers because of a fractured left
forearm. He could return in three-to-five weeks.
--RCB Jason Craft, who usually serves as the nickel cornerback, started in David's
place against the Panthers.
--SS Kevin Kaesviharn was the fifth defensive back on the field in the game
with the Panthers.
--P Steve Weatherford also kicked off against the Panthers because Olindo Mare
was nursing a groin injury.
--LB Marvin Mitchell was signed from the Saints practice squad to provide depth
and play on special teams.
--QB Tyler Palko was waived to make room for Mitchell on the 53-man roster.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- For the first time this season, the Saints'
once-explosive passing game showed some life. Drew Brees connected on 29 of
47 passes for 252 yards with a long of 54 yards that set up a second-quarter
touchdown. Brees wasn't hurried as much as he has been and wasn't sacked, and
he settled into a nice rhythm during several lengthy drives. But two interceptions
and several drops did him in and dropped the overall grade. Wide receiver Devery Henderson caught four passes for 101 yards, but he also had two critical drops,
including one that bounced off his hands and into the arms of a Panthers defender
late in the game.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Playing for the first time without injured
running back Deuce McAllister, the Saints had some positives in picking up 89
yards on 28 carries. The average wasn't great at 3.2 yards per attempt, but
Reggie Bush showed a willingness to run between the tackles and turned the ball
upfield quicker than he has in the past. He finished with a season-high 67 yards
on a career-high 21 attempts and converted several third-and-short situations
with tough inside runs. Backup Aaron Stecker also showed some toughness in gaining
12 yards on four carries.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Saints improved dramatically here although
they did give up two more pass plays of 20 yards or more -- including a 43-yarder
from third-string quarterback Matt Moore to Keary Colbert. He wound up with
four receptions for 74 yards as Moore and starter David Carr hit on 11 of 19
passes for 162 yards with one interception. The Saints did a decent job of keeping
All-Pro wide receiver Steve Smith in check as he caught just four balls for
47 yards, but one of them was a 17-yard TD that tied the game with only 3:53
remaining. The Saints had decent pressure at times, but came up with only one
sack -- which still was one more than they had in their first three games.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- Once again, the run defense was adequate
with the Saints holding the Panthers to 88 yards and a 3.1 average on 28 attempts.
While Carolina was at a serious disadvantage in time of possession, they had
enough opportunities to run the ball and the Saints did a good job of shutting
them down most of the day. DeShaun Foster gained a team-high 59 yards on 19
carries with a long of 12 and backup DeAngelo Williams added 23 yards on seven
attempts with a long of 10 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The Saints had a good day covering kicks,
holding the Panthers to just 6.0 yards on one punt return and 9.8 yards on four
kickoffs. Rookie Pierre Thomas, who was active for the first time, also averaged
25.0 yards on four kickoff returns. But the rest of the day was a nightmare
for the Saints, who averaged just 5.5 yards on two punt returns. Steve Weatherford
averaged just 39.0 yards with a net of 36.0 on two punts and Olindo Mare was
two-for-four on field goals, converting from 25 and 28 yards and missing from
54. He also had a low 20-yard attempt blocked.
COACHING: D -- Sean Payton gets credit for continuing to prepare
and motivate his team for each game, but he might have made a big mistake for
the game with the Panthers. First, Payton took a chance in not bringing in a
kicker after Olindo Mare injured his groin in Wednesday's practice. Then, after
Mare had a 20-yard field goal blocked because of low trajectory early in the
fourth quarter, he sent Mare out for a 54-yard try with less than two minutes
to play in a tie game. The kick was long enough but wide left, giving the Panthers
the ball at their 44 and the field position they needed to easily move 21 yards
to get in range for John Kasay's 52-yard field goal on the final play.