by Sharon Thorsland
The Panthers are still looking for that elusive first win of the season as they try to snap a year long home losing streak. They welcome division rival New Orleans to Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, which just happens to be the last team they beat at home. The Saints are 1-1 on the season after beating the Falcons then losing the Bucs last week.
The Saints have a new head coach this season in former defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. But they’ve still got most of their defense and offense back from last year’s squad, plus they added some star power with safety Tyrann Mathieu and receiver Jarvis Landry. The biggest addition though is All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas, who is back in the lineup after missing all of 2021 with an ankle injury. He’s caught all three of quarterback Jameis Winston’s touchdowns and looks to be back to his 2019 Offensive Player of the Year form. Between Thomas, Landry and Chris Olave, the rookie out of Ohio State, the Saints passing attack will challenge the Panthers defense that currently ranks third in the league allowing just 150 passing yards per game. “The rookie is their big play guy,” said Panthers safety Xavier Woods. “And Mike T. is Mike T. He’s back to the normal way he does things, he’s a great player.”
Speaking of great players – the Saints have a pair of them at running back in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. “Boom and Zoom” are both All-Pros and dual threats that can hurt you on the ground and through the air. Kamara is dealing with a rib injury but is expected to be return this week, and Ingram is averaging nearly six yards a carry. The Panthers have had all sorts of trouble stopping the run this season, they’re giving up 160 yards per game. Can they shore things up this week? If they don’t this could turn ugly quickly.
The Saints have had no such problems stopping the run, they’ve boasted a top four rush defense for four straight seasons. All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan anchors the front seven, he had 12.5 sacks last season. Marcus Davenport is a stud on the other side, and All-Pro Demario Davis is one of the best linebackers in the league. Of course the Panthers have Christian McCaffrey, he posted 102 rushing yards against the Giants last week. The Saint’s secondary features All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu and lock down corner Marshon Lattimore
It’s pretty early in the season to call this a must-win, but it is – the Panthers have lost nine straight games dating to last season, they haven’t won at home in over a year, and this is a division game, which guys always say count for two. Quarterback Baker Mayfield says no one is panicking, but they need to win this one to turn the season around. “Everybody wants to win at home,” said cornerback Donte Jackson. “It’s definitely an emphasis this week, coming out here and starting fast, just playing hard trying to get this W at home. And not only the home win but the first win. Because we’re going to stack them once they start.”
Let’s hope so or this will be a long season.