I wasn't in New Orleans for The Observer this time. Columnist Tom Sorensen and I split coverage of the road games while our two beat writers, Charles Chandler and David Scott, attend all of them. But here's how it looked in front of the TV to me as I count up the traditional postgame "5 things I didn't like."
1. Fumblin’ and bumblin’. DeAngelo Williams’ fumble at the 2 that resulted in a Saints TD late in New Orleans’ 30-20 win over Carolina was the game’s most egregious error.
Williams has had a serious case of fumble-it is this season compared to past years: No.34 lost only one fumble in his first three seasons and now has lost three in 2009. (And Williams also had two passes in his hands right around the goal line against the Saints and dropped both of them -- ouch).
But DeAngelo – who to be fair also scored both Panther TDs, gained 149 yards rushing and has clearly surpassed Steve Smith as the Panthers' best offensive player -- wasn’t the only one having trouble with the ball. Jonathan Stewart lost a fumble, too. And Jake Delhomme, on a fourth-down play with three minutes left when you absolutely have to get rid of the ball, instead held it too long, got sacked and lost a fumble.
2. Clock management on the Panthers' final drive. After Williams’ fumble, Carolina was down 30-20. The Panthers got a gorgeous 46-yard pass from Delhomme to Smith, who had done little until then.
But then, on first-and-goal from the New Orleans 8 with less than a minute to go and no timeouts, the Panthers actually called a running play. DeAngelo didn’t score and Jake had to spike the ball on second down with only 25 seconds left. Then, he threw two incompletions and it was “Game over.”
I’m OK with the decision to try to get the TD there rather than kick the field goal and hope for both an onside kick and a Hail Mary. But a running play with no timeouts? C’mon. (And why did Delhomme run the last two drives from under center rather than in the shotgun? Just doesn't make sense to me).
3. Julius Peppers was completely nullified by the Saints after a month-long explosion. He had no sacks and really was no factor. And, as we all know, he got paid $1 million for those 60 minutes.
4. Delhomme’s short leash. OK, so John Fox is interested in resurrecting Jake, not benching him. But for three quarters Fox mostly tried to work around his QB (much as the Panthers did successfully last week against Arizona). Jake had only thrown 12 passes in the first three quarters.
I know the Panthers like to run the ball, but this isn’t college football and they aren’t Navy. You can’t hide your quarterback forever. Even though the third-and-10 draw play worked a few times, Delhomme needed to get a chance to throw the ball a little more. If he's going to play, let him play.
5. Second-half pass defense. The Panthers’ D played a wonderful first half and was the main reason whhy Carolina led 17-6 at halftime. New Orleans’ vaunted offense got to the red zone three times and only got two field goals out of it, and Carolina’s defense set up one of those TDs with a Jon Beason fumble recovery at the New Orleans 11.
But in the second half, the Saints' long pass plays started to multiply, and Drew Brees (330 passing yards) looked like the best player on the field again. Carolina got outscored 24-3 in the second half, faltering down the stretch like an average team does against a very good team and wasting a whole lot of good plays in this 10-point loss that really was a lot closer than the final score indicates.