NEW ORLEANS – Carolina's defense immediately forced a punt on New Orleans' first drive Sunday, then needed a third-and-long stop for a second consecutive three-and-out possession.
They didn't get it – for what seemed like forever.
A 21-yard completion to Marques Colston kept the drive alive, and by the time the Panthers defense forced another three-and-out, Colston had visited the end zone twice and his team had done so three times.
Prior to the second-quarter onslaught – which featured touchdown drives of 80, 86 and 76 yards - the Panthers defense hadn't allowed three touchdowns in a game all season.
"That was not good enough," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We know that."
In the estimation of Rivera and his players, Sunday's stumbles came down to execution – a lack of it on the Panthers side and a wealth of it on the Saints side.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, who became the fifth player in NFL history to total 50,000 career passing yards, consistently had time to throw and receivers in position to make catches. And Brees, who completed 14-of-16 passes for 159 yards in the second quarter, isn't a quarterback that needs much time.
"He knows where he's going with the ball and gets it out quick, and they did a good job of protecting him," linebacker
"We didn't do our job; they did their job. When that happens, they scored points."
Kuechly was key to putting the clamps on ultra-talented tight end Jimmy Graham in the early going, but Brees simply looked elsewhere. He went early and often to an old favorite in Colston, who entered the game with two touchdowns all season but saw officials signal touchdowns for him four times Sunday.
Two of them were wiped out – one by a penalty and another by a review that placed the ball at the half-yard line - but he scored the Saints' first two touchdowns and finished the game with season highs of nine receptions and 125 receiving yards.
And eventually, Graham got his. He extended the lead to 21-6 with a touchdown catch 18 seconds before halftime, and he capped New Orleans' scoring with a fourth-quarter touchdown that allowed the Saints to become the first team all season to score more than 24 points against the Panthers.
"The one thing I didn't think we did well enough was be disruptive with their receivers," Rivera said. "I thought their receivers got off the ball clean a couple of times. We'll take a look at that."
Brees was at his best Sunday, and the Panthers defense was not. That's never a good combination for teams visiting New Orleans, but it doesn't mean the tide can't turn when the Saints visit Carolina in Week 16.
"This is a comfortable place for them with no elements and the crowd behind them, and they're on turf," Rivera said. "They protected him very well, and their timing was very good.
"The things that they do here they do really well. We'll see how things go when they have an opportunity to come to Carolina."