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3 things we learned about the Saints

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cornerback Josh Norman makes key plays in the Carolina Panthers’ secondary on a regular basis, though sometimes going underappreciated.

Not any more after a game-saving interception Sunday afternoon.

Norman intercepted a pass in the end zone with 1:09 remaining to help preserve a 27-22 victory over the winless New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium.

“I saw the ball (so) I get the ball,” Norman said. “I came down with it and made sure I secured it. I came down so hard on it. I don’t know how high up there I was in the air.”

Cam Newton threw two touchdown passes to tight end Greg Olsen and ran for a score as the Panthers remained unbeaten.

The Saints (0-3) threatened to pull off a late-game comeback until Norman intervened.

New Orleans drove to the Carolina 23-yard line before quarterback Luke McCown, starting in place of injured Drew Brees, appeared to have receiver Brandin Cooks open in the end zone. Norman’s leaping snag resulted in the second turnover of the half for New Orleans.

“I saw it and my eyes got big,” Norman said. “God gave me wings to fly.”

The Panthers (3-0) had touchdown drives of 89, 83 and 88 yards.

Brees missed the game with a right rotator cuff injury and the Saints struggled on offense in the second half until midway through the fourth quarter.

McCown was largely accurate, completing 27 of his first 30 throws and finishing 31 of 38 for 310 yards passing.

What we learned about the Saints

1. The Saints have a competent backup quarterback in QB Luke McCown. He hit on 31 of 38 passes despite playing from a deficit for a large part of the second half. There were even a couple of dropped passes, so his effort in place of injured QB Drew Brees was beyond commendable. That should give the Saints confidence, particularly if Brees misses more time.

2. The Saints have a playmaker in RB Marcus Murphy, who’s also a return specialist and that’s where he seems most capable of making impacts on games. The rookie out of Missouri returned a punt for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers and he’s anxious to make more plays. He doesn’t settle for touchbacks on kickoffs, regularly bringing the ball out of the end zone. Now it will be a matter of him best picking and choosing when to take those gambles.

3. The Saints haven’t figured out how to get the most out of their rushing attack on offense and that’s an issue that needs some resolution. With QB Drew Brees sitting out, it figured that the Saints would lean more on the ground game against Carolina. That didn’t pan out because New Orleans gained only 70 yards on the ground. RB Mark Ingram was the team’s top rusher with 50 yards on 14 carries.

Saints player notes

–QB Drew Brees’ durability had been among his many positive qualities in a 15-year career, so missing a game with an injury is cause for concern. The rotator cuff ailment that caused him to the miss the NFC South matchup with Carolina is nothing to be taken lightly. The Saints held off until late in the week before announcing that the wouldn’t play, so that lends to the theory that his absence might be a short-term situation. Yet there were reports Sunday that Brees could be sidelined for at least another week because of the injury.

–TE Ben Watson has a chance to be a major contributor, particularly as the starter. The Saints might not look to tight ends as much with Jimmy Graham gone to Seattle, but Watson is a veteran in the NFL and a savvy player. His fumble after a catch against Carolina proved costly but that shouldn’t distract from what he’s capable of doing.

–WR Brandin Cooks has had his share of troubles this season getting untracked, but that hasn’t stopped the Saints from looking in his direction. More passes from QB Luke McCown went in his direction than any other player on the Saints during the loss to Carolina. He responded with a team-high 79 receiving yards.


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