CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Drew Brees had turnovers to end New Orleans’ first two drives, while Cam Newton and Carolina couldn’t take advantage as the teams were scoreless after the first quarter of Thursday night’s game.
In a matchup to determine the NFC South lead, Brees had the Saints gaining chunks of yards on both of their first two drives only to see the Panthers’ defense get a takeaway.
New Orleans pushed inside the Carolina 15-yard line on the game-opening drive before Brees’ pass for Kenny Stills was deflected to Panthers defensive lineman Dwan Edwards for the interception.
Then, after the Saints forced a punt, Brees quickly pushed the Saints to midfield only to have Carolina’s Charles Johnson push fullback Erik Lorig into him and knock the ball loose as he looked downfield for a fumble.
Those turnovers killed early momentum for an offense that was coming off a big performance against Green Bay and had gained at least 18 yards on five different plays on the first two drives Thursday night.
New Orleans did nothing with its third drive and was set to punt as the quarter expired. Brees threw for 89 yards on 6-for-8 passing, while Mark Ingram ran for 36 yards in the opening period.
As for the Panthers, Newton got off to a slow start by throwing for just 23 yards on 2-for-8 passing.
The Panthers had won just one of their past six games coming in along with a tie at Cincinnati in Week 6, including falling at home last week to Seattle on a late touchdown.
The Saints, meanwhile, were 0-4 on the road this season.
Still, New Orleans was coming off a dominating second-half performance — at home, fittingly — in which it scored 28 points after the break to speed past the Packers 44-23.
There were no shortages of promising signs for the Saints in that one, from tight end Jimmy Graham hauling in a touchdown catch and looking healthier after a shoulder injury to Ingram running for a career-best 172 yards to complement Brees through the air.
The Panthers got running back DeAngelo Williams back for this one after missing four straight games with an ankle injury. He got the first carry for Carolina and split time with Jonathan Stewart in the backfield.
Carolina was without three starting offensive linemen — left tackle Byron Bell and guards Amini Silatolu and Trai Turner — due to injuries.