Saints’ defense steps up in Carolina, now back to ‘Dome, Sweet Dome’

SaintsHelmetThe monkey is off their collective backs. The Saints won a regular season game on the road, halting a seven-game skid.

Everyone can r-e-l-a-x. Relax.

The Carolina Panthers, the leaders in the NFC South heading into Thursday’s primetime matchup, were hardly a speed bump en route to the Saints improving to an even 4-4 on the season.

The offensive was impressive after a slow start, but it was the defense that stepped up again and again, making critical plays that were sorely missing in the Saints’ 1-3 start. Carolina was only able to muster 231 total yards and 10 points. Saints cornerback Corey White recorded his second interception in two weeks. Linebacker Junior Galette sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and forced a fumble that led to the Saints first touchdown. Newton, who posted a 39.4 quarterback rating, completed 10 of 28 passes and was sacked four times. He was a disaster.

Offensively, the Saints bounced back from a couple of first quarter turnovers. That’s tough to do anywhere, much less when you’re playing your second game in four days on the road against a division rival. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham (7 catches, 83 yards) rediscovered their rhythm and Mark Ingram busted through the Carolina defensive for 100 yards on 30 carries. That’s 272 yards on 54 carries since Sunday night.

“Mark’s been real consistent; the O line has done a heck of a job,” quarterback Drew Brees said in his postgame news conference. “We’ve done it in spite of not having any true backs here the last couple of weeks. Pierre and obviously those guys are a big part of what we do, but Mark has carried the load and has come in and done a great job when his number has been called.”

At 4-4, the strategy for the second half of the season is simple.

“We’ve got to keep getting better,” head coach Sean Payton said after the game. “We’ve got to keep improving and we’ll do it.”

They’ll be able to do it mostly in the friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, with five of the Saints’ final eight games at home.

And there’s this team evolution to build on — the Saints are now 1-0 on the road since leaving New Orleans on Wednesday. That’s something. And they’re 2-0 since Sean Payton ditched his sideline glasses. Is that the makings of a Super Bowl contender or what?

Next up — a home game against the San Francisco 49ers two Sundays from now. I think the Who Dat Nation will be ready.

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