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Statistics belie defense's performance

Posted Sep 16, 2012



CHARLOTTE - The New Orleans Saints wound up with 486 yards of total offense Sunday.

The Panthers defense wasn't counting.

"They were the spark," head coach Ron Rivera said following the Panthers' 35-27 victory. "The stats won't show it, but the way they played to sort of, kind of slow that group down is a heck of a deal for us.

"The Saints made plays, but when we had to, our defense bowed their necks and made plays for us."

Much like in last week's season opener when the defense held Tampa Bay to 16 points, the unit got off to a slow start. But after giving up a touchdown on the opening drive for the second time in as many games, the defense gave back in a big way.

With the Saints offense backed up inside its own 10-yard line, Panthers safety Charles Godfrey broke up a play-action pass with maximum impact, stepping in front of tight end David Thomas to pick off Drew Brees and returning the theft 9 yards for the game-tying touchdown.

"I stayed with my man, and when he threw the ball, I broke on it," said Godfrey, who scored the first touchdown of his five-year NFL career. "I'm thinking about the end zone every time I get the ball in my hands."

After that, the Saints offense did not return to the end zone until the fourth quarter, as the Panthers defense fed off Godfrey's play and amped up the pressure.

"That was a big-time boost, a big-time play in the game," said defensive end Charles Johnson, who pressured Brees when he rolled out on the play. "It was a play we saw on film, and I knew they were going to run it once I read my keys.

"Drew Brees, I thought he was just going to pull it down or throw it away, but he tried to force it in. I was just in the way. Godfrey gets all the credit."

Between Godfrey's touchdown and the Saints' next touchdown early in the fourth quarter, Carolina's offense built a 28-13 lead and the defense made life difficult for Brees and Co.

Again, statistics didn't tell the whole story as Brees was sacked just once, a combined effort from defensive end Thomas Keiser and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards late in the game.

Brees felt the heat several times, as five different Panthers were credited with quarterback hurries and he threw the ball away on several occasions to avoid a sack. The Saints converted four of their first five third-down attempts but just three of eight the rest of the way against a defense that was as prepared as possible.

"All week, we were in the film room studying those guys," Panthers rookie cornerback Josh Norman said. "The defensive line, those sharks, ended up getting pressure back there, and the back seven just held guys off."

Running backs accounted for 17 of Brees' 31 completions – including 13 by scat back Darren Sproles – and tight end Jimmy Graham hauled in another seven. When the Saints got the ball back with less than a minute left and with 80 yards to navigate for potential game-tying touchdown, Brees looked for Graham, but linebacker Jon Beason stepped in the path for an interception that sealed it.

"Coach told us that we did a great job of finishing, which is something we didn't do last year," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "It's a great feeling."