CHARLOTTE – Marquis Haynes Sr. and his teammates on the Panthers defense issued themselves a challenge ahead of their Week 3 matchup against the Saints.
Set high expectations. Come up with their first turnovers of the season. And just go out and have fun.
The defense did its job Sunday, forcing three takeaways and holding the Saints to 84 yards rushing in their first win of the season.
"We came out here today and answered the call," Haynes said.
The fifth-year defensive end played a crucial role in setting the tone. He scored the Panthers' first points of the day on a 44-yard fumble recovery, scooping and scoring after linebacker Frankie Luvu ripped the ball away from Saints running back Alvin Kamara in the first quarter. In a sense, Luvu avenged last week's dropped interception late in the first half against the Giants, which could have been the difference in the game.
For Haynes, it was the first time he had gotten to the end zone in his football career. But in the postgame locker room, when a big celebration of the season's first win (and the first since last November) could have been expected, the Panthers were relatively subdued.
Of course, there was some celebrating – Luvu cheerfully said he'd enjoy some postgame beverages – but then it would be back to work. And that played into the matter-of-fact kind of vibe.
"It's not the Super Bowl, you know what I mean?" linebacker Shaq Thompson said. "It's one. We've got, what,15 or whatever more games left in the season? We've got to finish this month out strong. …
"One win feels good. We've got that feeling. So now we've got to keep pushing."
But that isn't to deny how the win was a step in a positive direction for Carolina's defense.
Head coach Matt Rhule said the first-quarter strip-and-score "unleashed the spirit" of the defense, which went on to intercept Saints quarterback Jameis Winston twice and blocked a field goal attempt.
That came just before halftime, with the Saints trailing 13-0, as they drove to Carolina's 11-yard line. Wil Lutz lined up for a 30-yarder, but defensive end Henry Anderson squeezed through the middle of the line, getting a hand on the ball to keep the shutout intact going into halftime.
"You rush so many field goals (that) when you finally do block one, it's always kind of surreal for a minute," Anderson said. "It's just one of those things; you always keep chipping away, and then finally, it's going to happen."
Safety Jeremy Chinn had the Panthers' lone sack of the day, though they hurried Winston six times. Chinn set Winston back 11 yards on third-and-12 near the end of the third quarter. That forced Lutz to attempt a 48-yard field goal, which he missed to the right.
"My job is to rush the passer and tackle the running backs; I never thought that was going to happen," the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Brown said.
With the Saints down eight with less than 30 seconds left, the defense felt another opportunity would likely be coming their way, as Winston had no choice but to throw.
Horn said the message was direct: "Just come down with the ball. Let's end the game and get out of here." He took that to heart, intercepting Winston at the 50-yard line, finishing the win.
"Turnovers affect the game in a big way," Horn said. "We were saying all last week; they come in bunches. So we knew if we got one, they would just start pouring."
View photos of Panthers players on the field after Sunday's win against the Saints 22-14.