13 thoughts from Saints’ first road win of the season

It seems like recently there’s no place like home for the New Orleans Saints. But in Thursday night’s 28-10 win over the Carolina Panthers, the Saints earned their first road victory of the season.

Owning sole possession of first place in the NFC South, the Saints (4-4) enter a mini bye week before hosting three consecutive games at the Superdome. That’s quite the achievement for a team that started 2-4, but has since reeled off two wins in a row.

While they played far from perfect, the Saints were able to overcome early turnovers, orchestrate timely scoring drives and ride a stout defense that stifled for four quarters.

Here are 12 other thoughts from the Saints’ strong outing:

*Dating back to 2009, the Saints’ road record (25-20) ranks third in the entire league, according to STATS LLC. One reason why they have struggled recently, though, is over the past eight games on the road, they have an ailing turnover differential (-13). The Saints, however, were able to overcome two first-quarter turnovers and capitalize when the Panthers had similar issues.

*Quarterback Drew Brees was under pressure for most of the night. Playing behind center Tim Lelito, making his second career start, Brees was sacked four times and hit on five other occasions. Brees, who completed 24 of 34 for 297 yards with a touchdown and interception, was picked off in the red zone after wide receiver Kenny Stills allowed the ball to hit his pads and caused it to spring free into the air and land in the hands of Panthers defensive lineman Dwan Edwards. With no timeouts, Brees cooked up a very convenient scoring drive with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. Stills, who tweaked his groin, finished with five receptions for 72 yards.

*Right tackle Zach Strief (back) exited the game and was replaced by Bryce Harris.

*New Orleans cashed in through the running game. Mark Ingram wore a sleeve on his right shoulder in the second half after getting knocked around during the first 30 minutes of regulation. Ingram, playing his third game since returning from a broken hand, had another strong outing. Fresh off a 172-yard performance, Ingram showed the grit to run between the tackles finishing with 30 carries and 100 yards and a touchdown. Ingram became the first Saints running back with 20 or more carries in back-to-back games since Aaron Stecker in Dec. 2007, according to Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar. Playing in his fifth game this season, Ingram has already topped his single-season career high in TDs. With Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas inactive, Ingram received quite the healthy dose.

*The Panthers offensive line could only take so much pressure. Playing without three of their five starting offensive linemen (OG Trai Turner, LT Byron Bell and OG Amini Silatolu), quarterback Cam Newton used his athleticism and instincts to neutralize a fierce Saints pass rush, which entered the game with eight sacks in the previous nine quarters. Backed up in their own end zone, Newton rolled right and was hit by defensive end Junior Gallette, which caused a fumble that was recovered by Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton.

*Playing with an injured right shoulder, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham continued to play at a high level. Graham, who was flexed out wide on the Panthers’ goal line in the second quarter, hauled in a 1-yard touchdown pass from Brees. Leading the Saints in receptions (seven) and yards (83), Graham was hit hard on two plays by linebacker Thomas Davis. It appeared that at times Graham experienced some discomfort in the shoulder, receiving treatment on the sideline. Graham played 53 of 77 snaps (68.8 percent), his highest rate since initially sustaining the injury, according to Pro Football Focus’ Nathan Jahnke.

*Carolina (3-5-1) took some deep shots early, but Newton was off the mark for most the evening. Newton’s accuracy woes included overthrowing rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone, throwing into double and triple coverage at times and lacking the touch to complete intermediate throws. It should be noted that the Panthers receivers did the fourth-year quarterback no favors. Benjamin dropped a touchdown pass and wide receiver Brenton Bersin had a ball deflect off his hands, which was intercepted by Saints cornerback Corey White. Newton, who completed 10 of 28 for 151 yards, connected with wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery for a 47-yard completion up the seam. The connection setup a 31-yard Graham Gano field goal early in the fourth quarter.

*Newton’s greatest asset was his threat on the ground. Finishing with seven carries for 43 yards, Newton converted three third-and-longs by scrambling, one in which was punctuated by an highlight-worthy leaping 10-yard score.

*Saints cornerback Corey White has more interceptions (two) than Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (none), Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (none) and Browns cornerback Joe Haden (none) do combined.

*For a secondary that has been torched most of the season, the Saints defensive backs balled out. Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis made two plays of note. Newton, attempting to stretch the defense, lofted a deep pass in the first quarter to Cotchery. If completed, it would’ve setup the Panthers in scoring position, but Lewis blasted Cotchery at the perfect time, jarring the ball free. Later in the game, Lewis had picture-perfect coverage on Benjamin, defending the pass. Safety Rafael Bush led the team with eight tackles and as FOX Sports South’s Knox Bardeen noted, the Saints were smart to match the Falcons’ offer sheet this past April as Bush was a restricted free agent. Filling in for an injured Jairus Byrd, Bush has been a consistent threat in the secondary.

*Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, playing for the first time in five games due to an ankle injury, ignited the Panthers offense on the first play of the second half with a 30-yard catch-and-run. Williams split carries with Jonathan Stewart and the duo combined for 16 carries and 66 yards. While the Panthers backfield looks much more formidable with Williams and Stewart, they weren’t assisted with much room to run.

*Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton leads the team in tackles this year and is quietly having one of the best seasons of his career. Lofton, though, got beat on a few occasions, lacking the speed to track down athletic ball carriers sideline to sideline. With the new wave of oversized safeties playing the linebacker position, like Ravens rookie C.J. Mosley, the Saints could use some more burst at the second level.