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Rapid Reactions: Passing game struggles lead to another loss

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NEW ORLEANS — The script is all too familiar this season.

A day when the Panthers played good-to-exceptional defense and ran like they were stealing something was squandered because they couldn't move the ball at all through the air.

The Panthers fell 28-6 to the Saints Sunday at the Caesars Superdome, dropping to 1-12 on the season.

While quarterback Bryce Young was not what you'd call efficient, he also didn't have a lot of help in the passing game, either.

Young finished 13-of-36 for 137 yards passing, with dropped balls at a number of crucial junctures.

They ran the ball in a manner reminsicent of last season, with 204 yards on the ground, and Chuba Hubbard continuing to show he can be a lead back. Hubbard finished with 23 carries for 87 yards.

The difference this week was Miles Sanders got involved, with 10 carries for 74 yards including a 48-yard gallop which was the kind of big play they've been waiting on all year from him. His previous long run was 15 yards on three occasions. Even Young scrambled effectively, with 40 yards on three scrambles.

But they couldn't do anything through the air, and on a day when the Saints were begging to be beaten, they couldn't connect.

— Speaking of trends, starting left guard Justin McCray left after the first snap with a calf injury and did not return. He was replaced by Cade Mays.

McCray is one of six players to play left guard this season, to go with the seven to play right guard. They got five games combined out of last year's starting guards, Brady Christensen and Austin Corbett. They're both on IR, along with rookie Chandler Zavala.

That kind of instability is not survivable over the long haul of the season, and Young was sacked four more times Sunday, moving him to 48 times this season in 12 games.

— There was a moment when, as ridiculous as the first half was, the Panthers had a shot at points just before the break. 

A Derrick Brown interception (more on that in a second) gave them the ball at the Saints' 45-yard line with 18 seconds left and three timeouts. 

They probably needed 7 or 8 yards to be in Eddy Piñeiro range, but the first two passes were deep shots to Jonathan Mingo, followed by two more incompletions. Young walked off the field shaking his head after the fourth down attempt, which he basically threw away since no one was open. 

Young was 3-of-15 for 29 yards passing in the first half, with a handful of catchable passes dropped.

— Brown's interception was a thing of beauty. 

He tipped Derek Carr's pass, and it went off the helmet of Saints guard Cesar Ruiz before Brown caught it himself. It was his first interception since last year's home game against the Saints when he collected a tip off a Jaycee Horn deflection.

It was one of a number of highlight-reel plays made by Brown, including flinging people down for losses. 

He's playing at an incredibly high level this season, and if the team was even decent, he'd be getting talked about as a Pro Bowl candidate. He's playing that well. It's being lost in the surrounding mess.

There were a number of other standout plays on defense, as Frankie Luvu was all over the place, and Horn had a deep pass breakup on Chris Olave.

— All season, the Panthers have been able to count on special teams as well as their defense, but that came undone on Sunday. 

Johnny Hekker had a punt blocked for a touchdown, and Piñeiro missed a 41-yard field goal off the left upright in the fourth quarter.

The Hekker play was technically ruled a fumble on him, but he didn't have much of a chance on the play. He went down in pain and limped off the field and to the blue tent. He came back to finish the game.

View all the action from the Panthers' game against the New Orleans Saints in Week 14.

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