By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- You always have to be careful early in the NFL season to not draw grand conclusions about anything after a single game. Case in point: Your 2021 New Orleans Saints.
Heading into Sunday, the Saints were getting recognized as legitimate, after they trounced Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 1. Jameis Winston was renewed, with Sean Payton unlocking his true potential. The defense might be the best unit in the league. All of that.
But then ... then the Saints played the Panthers in Week 2. And ... nobody is saying any of that anymore.
New Orleans didn't score for the first three quarters in Carolina, mustering just seven points all game. Jameis Winston was 11-for-22 for 111 yards with two interceptions for a 26.9 passer rating. He did run for 19 yards and the Saints' lone score, but he also took four sacks. That came after Winston's Week 1 performance, when he went 14-for-20 for 148 yards and ... five touchdowns, while throwing zero picks and taking zero sacks.
New Orleans rushed for just 48 yards on 17 carries, giving them just 128 yards of offense on the day. They were also penalized 11 times for 115 yards, while going 2-for-11 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down.
Defensively, they were equally weak, allowing Sam Darnold to throw for 305 yards and two touchdowns (with an interception) on 26-for-38 passing. Christian McCaffrey had 137 yards from scrimmage (72 rushing, 65 receiving) and a touchdown, while D.J. Moore, Dan Arnold, Brandon Zylstra and Robby Anderson combined to make 17 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns. (That's not exactly the receiving core of The Greatest Show On Turf, either.) The Saints' defense had some serious breakdowns, something that didn't pop up at all in Week 1 vs. Green Bay.
Put it all together, and the Saints have one dominant, convincing victory over a good opponent, and they have one embarrassing flop against a mediocre opponent. Perhaps the strain of having to adjust everything about their operation in the wake of Hurricane Ida has begun to take a toll -- mentally, physically, or both.
While it's far too early in the week to get into the nitty-gritty of the matchups that we expect for Sunday, there is at least this: What suddenly looked like a major threat in Week 3 has now at least become a bit more reasonable task for the Patriots. And while the Patriots can't feel like juggernauts after a lackluster offensive performance in New Jersey, everyone in New England can at least feel better about the possibility of the Patriots heading into the much-hyped Game 4 matchup with Tom Brady and the Bucs with a 2-1 record attached to their name.
for more features.