Saints 18, Panthers 10: Instant reaction as Darnold falters late in 6th straight loss

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No matter who starts for the Carolina Panthers at quarterback these days, they’re not good enough to win on offense.

New Orleans sent the Panthers reeling to their sixth straight loss Sunday, winning 18-10 over a Carolina team that started Sam Darnold for the first time since Nov. 7.

Darnold played pretty well early, completing his first nine passes and leading the Panthers to 10 points on their first two drives. But after that, the Panthers (5-11) could do nothing, as Darnold ran a limited offense that looked high school ready — maybe — and specialized in the 2-yard pass on third-and-10. He was also sacked seven times.

The Panthers led at halftime, 10-9, but once again wasted a defensive performance that was good enough to win. With Dump-Off Darnold not throwing to his wide receivers often enough, Carolina played New Orleans (8-8) close but lost to a team that the Panthers had beaten, 26-7, in Week 2. Eleven of Darnold’s 26 attempts were to tight ends and running backs and of the eight targets to DJ Moore, three were dropped. The Saints stayed in the NFC playoff chase.

The good news? Carolina stayed in the No. 6 overall draft position due to the loss. Even with an upset win over Tampa Bay in the final week, the Panthers are guaranteed not to drop out of the draft’s top 10 picks.

Darnold (17-of-26 passing for 132 yards) didn’t throw a touchdown pass, lost a fumble on a sack early and couldn’t get the Panthers anywhere near the end zone on their final possession, when they needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie. Instead, Darnold threw an interception at his own 45 in the final minute, and that was that. He never completed a pass of more than 21 yards.

Saints wide receiver Marquez Callaway (1) pulls in a pass against Carolina Panthers defensive back Myles Hartsfield in the first half of Sunday’s game at New Orleans. The Saints won, 18-10, to remain in the NFC playoff hunt.
Saints wide receiver Marquez Callaway (1) pulls in a pass against Carolina Panthers defensive back Myles Hartsfield in the first half of Sunday’s game at New Orleans. The Saints won, 18-10, to remain in the NFC playoff hunt.

Cam Newton makes a cameo

After starting the past five games in a row, quarterback Cam Newton was demoted to afterthought Sunday. Newton came into the game for a single play, on first-and-10 for the Panthers at the New Orleans 26 early in the second quarter.

At the time, Darnold was 9 for 9 and in a rhythm, but the Panthers pulled him briefly. Newton circled right end for 5 yards, with one of his fingers bleeding after the play. Darnold returned, pitched to Chuba Hubbard and saw Hubbard break a couple of tackles and go for a 21-yard TD.

That was it for Newton; the rest of the game, for better but mostly for worse, was Darnold.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) hugs quarterback Cam Newton before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) hugs quarterback Cam Newton before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022.

Other notes from Panthers vs. Saints

Mark of a mediocre team times two: New Orleans and Carolina had to call a timeout on the Saints’ first drive of the game.

The Panthers remained the only team in the NFL not to allow a first-drive TD all season. They did give up a field goal this time, however.

Cam Jordan has tormented the Panthers for more than a decade, and the New Orleans defensive end had a 3.5-sack game Sunday. That constituted half of New Orleans’ total. Carolina’s offensive line, starting its 12th combination of the year, was again overwhelmed many times and gave up seven sacks for the second straight game.

How many times did Myles Hartsfield have a chance to intercept Taysom Hill’s third-quarter pass? The ball was thrown directly to him and he managed to bobble and drop it three times before letting it fall to the turf.

The Panthers’ third possession ended with Darnold losing a fumble deep in his own territory after he got clocked from the blindside. It’s worth noting that Newton, with his remarkable ability to hold onto ball, probably wouldn’t have fumbled that one. But most QBs would have.

Derrick Brown, the former No. 7 overall pick in 2020 who was briefly benched earlier this season, had his third sack of the season at a big moment, getting to Hill and forcing a Saints punt around midfield in the second quarter. Jeremy Chinn had Carolina’s other sack. The Panthers forced zero turnovers.

There were several nice moments on the Fox Sports broadcast referencing the late John Madden, who just passed away and gave Fox instant credibility when he joined the network. Undoubtedly, the best was the third-quarter “turducken” tribute. Color analyst Matt Millen, who was close to Madden, broke down for a moment talking about the coach in the fourth quarter.

Here’s a vote for more playing time for Frankie Luvu on a permanent basis: The linebacker/special teamer was all over the place Sunday, with a game-high nine tackles, three of them behind the line of scrimmage.