Saints 34, Panthers 3

The record is not as flashy, the offensive numbers not as gaudy

and the New Orleans Saints aren’t running away from the competition

like last year.

The defending Super Bowl champions still like where they sit,

however. Of course, everybody seems to gain confidence playing the

dreadful Carolina Panthers.

With Drew Brees shaking off an early interception to throw two

touchdown passes and Jabari Greer’s interception return giving the

defense its first TD of the season, New Orleans routed the Panthers

34-3 on Sunday.

The Saints (6-3) overcame the loss of tight end Jeremy Shockey

to a rib injury after his touchdown catch to stay a half-game

behind Atlanta in the NFC South. Rookie tight end Jimmy Graham

caught his first NFL TD in Shockey’s absence and the Saints held

Carolina to 195 yards for their second straight win.

”We’re used to last year where we ran off 13 in a row. That’s

hard to do,” Brees said. ”You know that feeling once you get on a

roll and you feel like everything is going to go our way. You just

believe it. We want to get back to that feeling again.”

Building off an emotional home victory over Pittsburgh a week

earlier, the Saints never gave the Panthers (1-7) a chance.

Carolina lost quarterback Matt Moore and running back Jonathan

Stewart to first-half injuries, further depleting the league’s

worst offense. Rookie QB Jimmy Clausen was later benched and the

Panthers finished with 195 yards.

”Pretty pathetic,” said receiver Steve Smith, held without a

catch until the final minute. ”That would be the only thing I have

to say. There are no explanations, no excuses.”

Brees overcame his 12th interception to complete 27 of 43 passes

for 253 yards. He was replaced by Chase Daniel after Ladell Betts’

1-yard TD run made it 34-3 with 8:12 left.

It ensured the Saints would enter their bye week with as many

wins as any team in the NFC.

”I think that this was a game that is really going to give our

team the confidence, the know-how and the blueprint to get to where

we want to get to,” Greer said.

New Orleans got a boost to its banged-up secondary with the

return of Greer and Tracy Porter to complete its first season sweep

of Carolina since 2001.

The Panthers went 1-15 that season, and this year is looking

just as bad.

”I think they tried,” coach John Fox said. ”I think we’re not

real good right now – on offense – not as a football team.”

Moore was 3 of 6 for 13 yards before leaving with an injured

throwing shoulder after Sedrick Ellis sacked him in the second

quarter. Clausen was no better and Greer returned his poor pass 24

yards to make it 27-3 late in the third quarter.

The embattled Fox yanked Clausen early in the fourth quarter

after he completed 8 of 18 passes for 47 yards. Rookie Tony Pike

then made his NFL debut. The sixth-round pick from Cincinnati

finished 6 of 12 for 47 yards.

”There probably wasn’t much fear of a comeback at that point in

the game,” Fox said of benching Clausen. ”It gave (Pike) valuable

time.”

By then, the Panthers were down to a skeleton crew and few of

their home fans were still in the stands.

Stewart, starting with DeAngelo Williams (foot) missing his

second straight game, left in the first quarter with a head injury

after gaining 30 yards on five carries.

The Saints won a replay challenge on the play, giving them the

ball when it was ruled Stewart fumbled. It set up Brees’ 7-yard

touchdown pass to Shockey to give New Orleans the lead for good at

7-3.

Shockey, though, injured his ribs on what was his 500th career

catch and didn’t return. He was sent to the hospital just before

halftime.

”We took him just to make sure there was nothing else more

serious,” coach Sean Payton said. ”The X-rays were

negative.”

The Saints didn’t need him, not with the Panthers failing to

reach double digits in points for the fourth time in eight games.

And even the backups got hurt – third-string running back Tyrell

Sutton left with an ankle injury.

The Saints have had their share of injuries, too, namely to

running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas. They remained

sidelined and the Saints got off to a slow start.

Brees bobbled a snap and rushed a throw that bounced off Robert

Meachem’s hands and was picked off by Richard Marshall. He returned

Brees’ 12th interception – one more than he had all of last season

– 67 yards to set up John Kasay’s 20-yard field goal for a 3-0

lead.

That was the only offensive success for the Panthers, who

finished with 68 yards passing and had two more turnovers to give

them 25 on the season.

But with few options, Fox said Moore would start next week at

Tampa Bay if he’s healthy.

”I think he can operate our offense the best of the

quarterbacks,” Fox said. ”unless we decide to go to the

wishbone.”

Notes: The Panthers also lost LB Dan Connor (hip) and DE Greg

Hardy (head). … S Darren Sharper (hamstring) and RB Chris Ivory

(shoulder) left for the Saints. … The Panthers several times had

no down linemen on obvious passing downs, rushing players from off

the line of scrimmage.