CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Some of the remaining Panthers fans in a mostly empty stadium let out a sarcastic cheer when Derek Anderson replaced Cam Newton with less than 5 minutes left Sunday in a 34-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Clearly, some are losing patience with the former NFL MVP.
Newton continued to struggle in his third game back from shoulder surgery. He was limited to 167 yards passing and was intercepted three times, finishing with a 43.8 passer rating — the third-worst of his seven-year career — despite facing a Saints defense that ranked 32nd in the league. He was sacked four times .
Yes, Carolina is still 2-1, but the two victories came largely because of its defense.
Newton is completing just 61 percent of his passes this season and has twice as many interceptions (four) as touchdown passes.
“I feel like if I play better, the outcome is different,” Newton said.
Newton has been recovering from offseason shoulder surgery he had in March and was limited in practice this week as the Panthers looked to rest him.
“Where my mental frame was, I was ready to play,” he said. “It was just the circumstances of the game that took place.”
Saints players said Newton’s throws had plenty of zip on them, but cornerback JP Williams said two of the interceptions came on “tips” they picked from studying game film.
Newton’s passing options are limited.
Tight end Greg Olson missed his first game with a broken foot, and top receiver Kelvin Benjamin left the game after the first quarter with a knee injury. Newton acknowledged he spent the day “trying to make a play and force throws. Trying to find a spark.”
Coach Ron Rivera isn’t considering making a change at quarterback. He said replacing Newton late in the game was a “self-preservation move.”
Things we learned from the Saints-Panthers game:
WHO WOULD’VE THOUGHT?: So the Saints can play defense.
New Orleans’ 32nd-ranked defense held Carolina to 288 yards and forced three Newton interceptions .
“They were mixing it up, giving us different looks with their pressure here and there on third down,” Panthers receiver Curtis Samuel said . “Sometimes they’ll play that off-man (coverage) where they have a guy just playing off and he’s sitting there waiting for you to create contact.”
New Orleans had surrendered 470 yards to Minnesota and 429 to New England in the previous two games.
GINN MAKES A SPLASH: Saints receiver Ted Ginn Jr. returned to Bank of America Stadium to face his old team and found his way to the end zone on a 40-yard touchdown reception. He also nearly scored on a 15-yard run in the second quarter.
“We just showed you what type of team we have, what type of work we put in,” Ginn said. “Doing it in practice. With some of the guys we have on defense, it’s kind of worse in practice than it is in games.”
McCAFFREY’S A TOP TARGET: It became obvious the Panthers will rely heavily on Christian McCaffrey with Olsen and Benjamin out.
The Panthers got McCaffrey the ball on three of their first four plays, and the rookie out of Stanford recorded his first 100-yard game in his third pro outing. McCaffrey finished with 117 total yards, including 101 on nine receptions.
“Christian looked dynamic when he had the ball in his hands,” Rivera said.
VACCARO’S WEEK: A week ago, Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro addressed trade talk and the reasons behind a defense still looking for its first takeaway going into Week 3. After a win at Carolina, Vaccaro answered questions about a defense that forced three interceptions.
Saints coach Sean Payton downplayed the drama of Vaccaro’s playing time in a Week 2 home loss to New England.
“First off, it wasn’t an official benching,” Payton said. “I know that’s perfect for (television). He and Vonn (Bell) are playing fantastically. We did well against some of the personnel groupings we saw (in Carolina).”
Bell replaced Vaccaro at safety midway through a Week 2 loss to New England. They were both in the starting lineup on Sunday for New Orleans, which seems to have depth in the defensive backfield.
PEPPERS ABSENT FOR ANTHEM: Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers chose to remain in the tunnel during Sunday’s national anthem “on my two feet,” choosing instead to be absent than kneel in public. He began his postgame comments by saying his decision wasn’t about disrespecting the military, disrespecting the flag, police or first responders.
The 17-year veteran said he was taking a stand for his “brothers in the league,” whom he felt were attacked in comments by President Donald Trump this week. Peppers said he did not discuss his decision to remain out of sight with any teammates beforehand.
“There are only a few times in a man’s life where you have the chance to stand up for something you believe in and make a statement,” said Peppers. “So I thought was that chance and I took it.”
AP freelance writers Eli Pacheco and Justin Parker contributed to this report.