CHARLOTTE — The Panthers are far from a finished product, and there are still plenty of things to work on.
But they're also not in a position to apologize for a win.
The Panthers picked up their first victory of the season (and their first overall since last November), beating the Saints, 22-14, thanks to their defense, special teams and the debut of a new offensive weapon. It was the first win at Bank of America Stadium since Week 2 last season against the Saints, over a calendar year since they've been able to celebrate at home.
So while 1-2 is far from ideal with the schedule that lies ahead (four straight games upcoming against teams that made the playoffs last year, in the Cardinals, 49ers, Rams, and Buccaneers), it beats the alternative.
Panthers defensive end Marquis Haynes Sr. recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the first quarter for a dramatic first score, which set the tone for the rest of the day.
Linebacker Frankie Luvu forced the fumble, the first turnover the Panthers have created this season. It also continued a strong run of games for Luvu in a more prominent role on defense.
The Panthers also got the job done on special teams, with defensive end Henry Anderson blocking a field goal in the first half, the first time they've done that since 2019 (Kyle Love against Washington). That made it the first time since 2004 (Week 12 against the Buccaneers) in which they had a defensive touchdown and blocked field goal the same day.
When you add defensive tackle Derrick Brown (yes, Derrick Brown) getting an interception off a pass tipped by a blitzing Jaycee Horn, and Horn sealing the game with a late pick, it was the kind of turnovers-are-contagious day they were hoping for.
The Panthers weren't what you'd call dominant defensively, but they were timely.
Jeremy Chinn came up with a big third-down sack (blitzing and unblocked) which forced Saints kicker Will Lutz into a 48-yard attempt that he missed midway through the third quarter.
That was part of a more aggressive day on the whole for a defense that has been frustrated by not forcing a turnover in the first two games and leaking at the wrong times.
And it was just what they needed.
— The Panthers needed that kind of performance in the other two phases, since the offense is still trying to find an identity.
They gained just 101 yards in the first half, with Baker Mayfield an unremarkable 7-of-13 for 44 yards. They also converted just 1-of-6 third downs in the opening half, and 4-of-14 for the day.
They finished the game looking a little better thanks to a big play, but it's still a developmental product.
Other than a long catch-and-run from Laviska Shenault Jr., the passing game was nondescript for most of the day, with Mayfield finishing 12-of-25 passing for 170 yards.
Shenault will be a new fan favorite this week because of his work in the fourth quarter.
After the Saints made it a 13-7 game with 12:31 left, Shenaut gained 36 yards on the ensuing kickoff. Two plays later, he took a screen for Mayfield 67 yards to put the Panthers back up by double digits.
Shenault, who was active for the first time after coming to the Panthers in a trade with the Jaguars in late August, added a 23-yard reception later in the fourth.
— Kicker Eddy Piñeiro hit three field goals (including a 45 and 48 in the first half), keeping him perfect this season.
He's 7-of-7 so far since joining the team following the preseason injury which knocked Zane Gonzalez out for the season.
— Cornerback Donte Jackson missed most of the first half after leaving the game with a neck injury.
He went to the medical tent and was announced as questionable to return. He eventually returned in the third quarter.
Cornerback CJ Henderson was also announced as questionable to return with a neck injury in the third, but he came back to finish the game.
View best in-game photos from Carolina's home game against New Orleans.