Rapid reactions: Panthers put the pressure on

Jameis Winston sacked

CHARLOTTE — There were plenty of individual highlights for the Panthers Sunday.

But the best part for them was the fact a lot of guys had a hand in it, and that for the first time in a minute, the Panthers are 2-0.

A 26-7 win over the Saints came with a lot of positives they'll take into a short week, heading into next Thursday's game against the Texans.

After losing four straight and eight of the last nine to the Saints (including playoffs), any win against New Orleans was welcome.

And being 2-0 for the first time since 2017 was a nice bonus.

Other than Christian McCaffrey leaving the field in the third quarter with cramps (after touching the ball 21 times) and a weird interception when Sam Darnold was pressured, there wasn't too much to pick apart. The fact it was 17-0 when those two calamities happened — and McCaffrey returned after a quick trip to the locker room and later scored — allowed the Panthers to breathe a sigh of relief.

Without Drew Brees on the other sideline to torment them, the Panthers continued to bring pressure, which is becoming a trend.

The Panthers defense was even more dominant than a week ago against the Jets, keeping the clamps on a Saints offense that scored 38 against the Packers a week ago.

They held the Saints to 128 yards, their fewest ever under head coach Sean Payton, and the fewest the Panthers have allowed in 54 all-time games against New Orleans. The Panthers also sacked quarterback Jameis Winston four times, hit him 11 times and picked him off twice.

The sacks came from four different Panthers, the hits from seven different guys, and there were interceptions by Juston Burris and Jaycee Horn.

It was a rather collective effort.

And other than that one turnover, Darnold was sharp.

He went 26-of-38 for 305 yards and two touchdowns.

McCaffrey finished the game with 137 yards on 29 touches, including a fourth-quarter touchdown which took away what little doubt remained.

Along with what's becoming the normal big day for DJ Moore (eight catches for 79 yards), it was an efficient if not amazing day against a depleted Saints defense.

The Saints were without Marshon Lattimore and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (in addition to the two starters placed on IR this week, and the eight coaches held out because of COVID-19), and it showed.

The Panthers raced to an early lead, with Darnold having another excellent first half (16-of-20 for 216 yards and two touchdowns). Then they were able to hold on, a little more comfortably than a week ago against the Jets.

It's still a work in progress, but at least they're progressing.

— The kicking thing is a thing again.

New kicker Zane Gonzalez had a 50-yard field goal attempt blocked, and missed an extra point in the fourth quarter.

He'll be here for the next two weeks, since you have to guarantee three weeks of salary and roster spot when you sign a player off another team's practice squad (Gonzalez was with the Lions).

But after they cut bait on Ryan Santoso rather than giving up a seventh-round pick for him, after cutting bait on now-Texans kicker Joey Slye, it's something they have to monitor.

Gonzalez hit a 42-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, but this is what it's going to be like when you have replacement-level kickers.

— The Panthers do have some injuries to keep an eye on during the short week.

Left guard Pat Elflein left early in the second quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return. He was replaced in the lineup by Dennis Daley.

Daley left for a series in the second half and was replaced by Brady Christensen.

Left tackle Cameron Erving and Burris each left briefly but returned, and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos also limped off the field with an ankle injury.

View photos from the field during Carolina's Week 2 game against the Saints at Bank of America Stadium.

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