It turned out that Cam Newton, the NFL’s top-ranked defense and the undefeated Carolina Panthers were exactly what Drew Brees, the NFL’s worst defense and the winless New Orleans Saints needed to jumpstart their season.
I never saw it coming — not 34-13, anyway. Be honest. Did you?
And now it’s on to Breakfast at Wembley Stadium for the ‘Won-and-2’ Black and Gold who face the Miami Dolphins (1-1) at 8:30 a.m. Sunday in London, England.
The question is which Saints team made the transoceanic trip — the one that dominated Carolina in Week 3 or the one that mounted little resistance against Minnesota and New England in Weeks 1 and 2?
I’m not sure if Saints coach Sean Payton honestly knows the answer to that question.
What happened Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, is exactly why they play the game. Pardon the cliche but it’s true.
The Saints had no business winning by 21 points, not based on what we saw on both sides of the ball against the Vikings and Patriots.
Yet, the Won-and-2 Saints gave the Panthers the business for a full 60 minutes, leaving no doubt as to the better team Sunday. It might be different when the teams reconvene on the first Sunday in December at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The difference Sunday came down to the quarterback. Drew Brees was simply magnificent for the Saints, completing 22 of 29 passes for a deuce-20 and three touchdowns resulting in a stellar 131.4 passer rating. He has yet to commit a turnover this season, nor has his team.
Conversely, Newton threw three INTs, two of which the Saints converted into touchdowns. He made bad decisions, held on to the ball too long, repeatedly misfired downfield and doesn’t look to run from trouble as he once did, creating a perfect storm for a patchwork secondary and a challenged pass rush.
It’s apparent Newton is not right, that his right shoulder is not full strength after undergoing surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in late March. Too, the Panthers were missing five-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen and center Ryan Kalil and lost No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and starting right guard Trai Turner to injuries during the game.
So they have problems going forward.
The Saints have their own share of injury problems (Terron Armstead, Zach Strief, Delvin Breaux, Marshon Lattimore, Sterling Moore, among others). They also were without suspended wide receiver Willie Snead who returns to the roster against the Dolphins. But they overcame those problems Sunday in Charlotte.
Can they do it again Sunday in London?
The proof is in the trumpets, er, pudding.
Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.