NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers are preparing for their second matchup this season under circumstances that have changed substantially since the last time they met.
Saints quarterback Derek Carr was relatively healthy for their Week 2 clash in Carolina and still in his honeymoon period with the same New Orleans fans who booed him repeatedly in the Superdome last weekend. He was also knocked out of a game for the third time in his first season in New Orleans.
The Panthers began the season under coach Frank Reich, who was “encouraged” by rookie QB Bryce Young's response to his first taste of adversity in the NFL.
Carolina has since fired Reich and is preparing for its second game under interim coach Chris Tabor when the Panthers (1-11) visit the Saints (5-7) on Sunday.
New Orleans, meanwhile, is in the midst of a season-high three-game skid and in danger of seeing its season slip away. When the Saints beat the Panthers on a Monday night in September, they were 2-0 and looked like the favorite in the anemic NFC South. They've gone 3-7 since and have fallen a game behind Atlanta (6-6) for the division lead.
“We need a win. There’s no question about that," said Saints second-year coach Dennis Allen, who also has been the object of heavy criticism in New Orleans. “We’re going to work extremely hard to get it figured out. ... We’re going to keep chopping wood and eventually we’re going to bust through.”
For the Panthers, Tabor said, knowing they’ve been eliminated from playoff contention is “extremely hard.”
But he added, “you have two choices: character or compromise.”
“When I lay my head down at night, I like to think I know who I am,” Tabor added. “Did I do an honest day’s work? I think that is how you have to look at it. I don’t think about the record -- that is way past. I’m just thinking about what are we doing to set ourselves up to win.”
The Saints spent much of this week unsure whether Carr or backup Jameis Winston would be their starting QB on Sunday. Carr, who last Sunday has his second concussions in the span of 22 days, was permitted to practice on a limited basis this week, but remained in the concussion protocol as the weekend neared.
The only uncertainty at QB for the Panthers was when their top draft choice might have his first true breakout game. Young has yet to throw for as many as 250 yards in a game and has thrown as many interceptions as touchdown passes with nine each.
“At any given moment, Bryce Young could have that spark, so I don’t think we’re necessarily looking at the record," Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "We’re just looking at it like, ’Man, we’ve got to beat these guys.'”
PREPARING FOR 3 QBS
Tabor his team is preparing for both Carr and Winston.
“We’re not for sure which one it’s going to be,” Tabor said. “You’re talking about two seasoned veterans that have won a lot of football games, played in a lot of big games that can get streaky at any time.”
Tabor seems equally concerned with the versatile Taysom Hill. Lining up intermittently at QB, Hill ran nine times for 75 yards in New Orleans’ 20-17 win over Carolina in Week 2.
“You always talk about value on a roster,” Tabor said. “Think about this: a quarterback, a guy that returns kicks, a guy that blocks kicks, a guy that runs wildcat. You know what he is? He’s a football player, a really good football player, and he causes a lot of problems not only for us.”
YOUNG STAYING FOCUSED
Young is 1-10 as a starter and has been sacked 44 times.
But the No. 1 overall draft choice out of Alabama is trying to remain steady in his daily approach.
“Just being consistent in what you’re doing and not being results-based,” Young said. “Again, it’s hard, and it is a results-based business. So, you accept that, but you can’t let the results change your process. There are circumstances you can’t control or, if things are going bad, you can’t do less, you can’t care less, you can’t focus less, you can’t give less.”
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
The Panthers are winless on the road this season and haven’t won away from home since the 2018 regular-season finale at New Orleans, when Eddy Pineiro was carried off the field after making the winning kick in a 10-7 victory.
“To win on the road, I mean, the secret is, it’s not a big secret — (if) you want to win on the road, pack a good team,” Tabor said.
WEAKNESS VS. STRENGTH
Mathieu suspects this matchup could test New Orleans' defense, which this season ranks 24th against the run and has struggled with quarterbacks such as Young who escape the pocket with regularity.
The Panthers "do a lot of things well that we don't necessarily (defend) well,” Mathieu said, alluding to the emergence this season of Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard.
“They run the ball well," Mathieu added. "Obviously you have Bryce Young, who's able to not just throw the ball but be effective with his legs. He was able to kind of break free a few times when we played them earlier.”
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