CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – A spark from the hometown crowd and a strong all-around performance from the defense lifted the Panthers (1-2) to a 22-14 win over the Saints Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
“Obviously not a perfect game, a lot of things we still have to improve upon, but I thought our guys competed, our defense took the ball away,” a relieved Matt Rhule said after the win.
With time running out late in the game, Saints quarterback Jameis Winston threw into a crowd of Carolina defenders and somehow New Orleans receiver Marquez Callaway miraculously emerged with the ball, making it a one-possession game with the Panthers clinging to a 22-14 lead. An onside kick from the Saints (1-2) was unsuccessful. Carolina would all but seal a win on a perfectly placed kick that pinned New Orleans on their 1-yard line with just 17 seconds left. A desperate heave from Winston resulted in a pick to end the game.
In the first quarter, the Panthers forced their first turnover of the season and it was a big one. Linebacker Frankie Luvu recovered a fumble by Saints star running back Alvin Kamara and ran into the endzone for a 7-0 lead.
Neither team’s offense was able to score touchdowns in the first half, and two more field goals would give the Panthers a 13-0 lead over its NFC South divisional rival heading into the locker room.
“There’s a lot of work to be done on the offense,” Rhule said.
The Saints got on the board in the fourth quarter when running back Mark Ingram punched it in from 5 yards out capping a drive that started on their own 11-yard line and cutting the deficit to 13-7. Carolina responded immediately when Baker Mayfield connected with recently acquired wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., who shook off defenders and made his way a sprawling 67 yards down the field for the score and a 19-7 lead. A two-point conversion attempt failed.
Winston has been riddled with injuries and his performance was, by any standard, less than subpar on Sunday. His reputation for turning the ball over did not disappoint for the Panthers defense. He had multiple balls deflected at the line of scrimmage, fumbled twice, and threw two interceptions.
Running back Christian McCaffrey shot down reports last week he was injured, and he was active Sunday and used frequently. CMC finished with 108 yards on 25 carries plus two catches for 7 yards.
Carolina snaps a nine-game losing streak that dates back to last season.
The Panthers return to action next Sunday hosting the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium (4 p.m., Local Charlotte).
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