The Carolina Panthers flew out to a 17-0 lead and battered the New Orleans Saints, 26-7, in Week 2 of the 2021 NFL season. The Saints' lone score came on a short field and an unusual Sam Darnold interception. Running back Christian McCaffrey left the game for a few series to get an injury checked out but returned and scored the dagger touchdown in the fourth quarter for Carolina.
The Saints looked unable to get out of first gear, with the Panthers pressuring quarterback Jameis Winston often while the New Orleans defense could not get close to Darnold when it mattered. After a dominant win in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, the Saints — without numerous starters and coaches — looked like a shell of themselves in Carolina.
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Sam Darnold was kept clean for the entire first half as the Panthers built their 17-point halftime lead. He went 15-of-19 for 199 yards and two touchdowns when kept clean over the first 30 minutes of game time. The Saints put the clamps down in the second half, and the difference in Darnold’s numbers are stark:
Darnold Passing By Half
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Christian McCaffrey, as usual, was the focal point of the Panthers' offense, seeing 27 touches en route to 132 yards and a touchdown. He caught all five of his catchable targets — including a nice one-handed snag — and gained four first downs off those receptions. Fifty-five of his 64 yards came after the catch.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
D.J. Moore was the top target-getter for quarterback Sam Darnold, catching seven of his 10 looks for 70 yards. He came down with two of his three contested-catch targets, as well.
Tight end Dan Arnold led the way with 3.44 yards per route in his Saints revenge game. He caught three passes for 55 yards. Carolina struggled to get the ball downfield, so speedster Robby Anderson was limited to two catches on four targets for just 22 yards.
The Panthers' offensive line was not tagged with a sack allowed, as all were credited to Darnold on first review of the film. The unit did give up six pressures, with tackle Cam Erving allowed three on the day. Guard Pat Elflein was injured midway through the game, and Dennis Daley stepped in to replace him.
Five defensive linemen recorded multiple pressures on the day, with Morgan Fox and Brian Burns notching six and four, respectively, after first review. However, it was Haason Reddick who led the team with two sacks, converting both of his pressures.
Shaq Thompson enjoyed a big day, with three tackles and two defensive stops in the run game while not allowing a catch on two targets into his coverage. He also tallied a pressure on Jameis Winston.
Juston Burris gave up four catches for 69 yards and picked off Winston once. No one else in the secondary gave up more than 19 total yards into their coverage. Rookie Jaycee Horn nabbed his first career interception.
Jameis Winston was under pressure for the majority of the contest and couldn’t get into any rhythm or push the ball downfield. On 17 pressured dropbacks, he went 3-of-11 for 43 yards and a couple of interceptions.
Winston By Target Depth
Alvin Kamara was bottled up from the first snap. His eight rushes went for five total yards, and he added a missed tackle. He tallied four catches on six targets for 25 yards in the passing game.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
With the injury last week to Erik McCoy, the Saints slid Cesar Ruiz to center and inserted Calvin Throckmorton at right guard. Ruiz was a mess, allowing three pressures and a sack, while left guard Andrus Peat allowed four pressures and a sack.
Rookie Payton Turner led the Saints line with three pressures, a sack and four defensive stops in the run game — a good performance for his first NFL outing. Cameron Jordan showed up with two pressures and a couple of run stops.
Star linebacker Demario Davis made eight tackles and broke up a pass as the Saints cycled through players at the position due to Kwon Alexander being out. Zack Baun saw 59 snaps as a starter, while Kaden Elliss was used 25 times and Andrew Dowell nine times. Baun was targeted six times in coverage, giving up four catches for 67 yards.
Paulson Adebo had his “welcome to the NFL” moment in Week 2. Darnold targeted the rookie from Stanford 11 times, with the cornerback giving up nine catches for 90 yards. Darnold also tested the Saints' safeties. P.J. Williams was targeted four times and allowed a catch each time for 28 yards, while Malcolm Jenkins allowed four catches on five targets for 50 yards.