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Saints second half surge not enough to overcome mistakes against Panthers

The Saints fall to 4-6 despite a second half performance in which they dominated.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints fell to 4-6 after losing 23-20 to the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football. The team was able to rebound after an abysmal first half, but it wasn’t enough in the end.

The first half was just atrocious, as nothing really went right. The Saints made mistakes in all three phases. Two turnovers by Drew Brees, bad penalties on defense to keep the offense on the field, a poor decision by Marcus Murphy on a kick return, and a blocked kick that gave the Panthers a big touchdown before the half.

The Panthers were outgained, held the ball less, had a struggling Cam Newton, and were up 20-3 by halftime. They took advantage of the short fields. The only bright spots from the first two quarters would be Mark Ingram and the early pressure by the Saints defense.

Opening the second half, the Panthers went up 23-3 after Graham Gano’s 42-yard field goal on a drive that went 51 yards on 14 plays and took up 6:43. The Saints would do their best to get back into it and answer, but it took them 8:17 to go 58 yards to only come away with a field goal to trim the lead to 23-6.

A quick hold by the Saints defense gave the ball back to the offense, and strong running by Tim Hightower set the team up for their first touchdown of the game when Brees found Brandon Coleman for a 9-yard pass. On the play, fullback John Kuhn did an outstanding job picking up the blitz to save a sack.

The Panthers would have a quick 3-and-out that used up 13 seconds of game clock, but it wouldn’t matter as the Saints would answer with a a 3-and-out of their own after Coleman couldn’t hang on to a big catch. After another Panthers drive that stalled, it looked like the Saints would get good field position out of it, but a booming punt and block in the back penalty would drive the offense back to their own 29-yard-line. They went 76 yards in 13 plays in 5:11, and Brees found Coby Fleener for a touchdown with 2:52 to put the Saints down three.

The ensuing Panthers drive was just enough to put the game out of reach, as Newton found Kelvin Benjamin for a big 3rd Down conversion. The Saints would get the ball back, but the clock wasn’t on their side and the Panthers would hold to prevail.

For whatever reason, the Saints can’t exercise their demons from teams of the past. When facing .500 in 2012 and 2014, they lost three straight. In 2015, they lost four straight. Coincidentally, they finished 7-9 in each of those season. The team is in a major tailspin, and the sad part is this is the ‘weak’ part of their schedule.

They’ll have a few extra days off now, and try to pick up the pieces when they have a two-game home stand that starts with the Los Angeles Rams in Week 12.