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New Orleans Saints fight off setbacks, set sights on Carolina Panthers

Sep 12, 2021; Jacksonville, Florida, USA;  New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) hands off to  running back Alvin Kamara (41) in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 12, 2021; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) hands off to running back Alvin Kamara (41) in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints prescribe to a roll-with-the-punches approach, and already showed they can throw a few haymakers, too.

The Saints head into their second game of the season with a 1-0 record, but Payton and Company have taken more than their share of body blows in the past month.

New Orleans faces the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., coming off a dominating performance and dealing with another round of adversity.

They’re preparing for this NFC South matchup in Texas — Hurricane Ida forced them to evacuate Louisiana — without five offensive assistants and staff members because of COVID protocols.

“There’s obstacles every week, right?” Payton said. “There’s injuries this year and last. COVID is different. But it’s important to be able to focus on the main things.”

The Saints opened the season with a 38-3 rout of Green Bay in a “home” game played in Jacksonville, Fla., because of Ida’s damage in New Orleans.

The Saints are based temporarily in Fort Worth, Texas, while their home area is in recovery and play their first true road game during that stretch when they meet the Panthers (1-0). They’ll be without multiple key players who suffered injuries last week, including defensive end Marcus Davenport and cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

The good thing for the Saints is that quarterback Jameis Winston threw five touchdown passes in his first start with the team.

“Right now, we have to keep getting better,” said Winston, who’s 5-5 all-time vs. the Panthers as a starter when he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Despite New Orleans’ disruptions, Panthers coach Matt Rhule figures the Saints are in good shape.

“Winning teams win. They all know what they’re doing,” Rhule said. “Sean Payton has developed over the years an organization that is completely aligned.”

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Rhule said Winston has a major advantage in the form of running back Alvin Kamara. Kamara had 23 touches for 91 yards and a touchdown against the Packers. Rhule said tackling Kamara is tricky because of his “elite, Hall of Fame-type balance.”

The Panthers are encouraged by their own Week 1 win, a 19-14 victory against the New York Jets.

“For each guy, where can we improve?” Rhule said. “I would expect us to make a jump as a team this week.”

That Carolina result came with running back Christian McCaffrey, who was limited to three games last season, compiling 187 yards of total offense.

“I just think the running game is one thing and that’s significant,” Payton said of McCaffrey’s impact. “He’s a running back, but the threat of him as a receiver is much different. There are certain things he can do obviously at the running position within the framework of your passing game, so those are all really, really good traits for him.”

The New Orleans defense was dinged by injuries to Lattimore (thumb surgery) and Davenport (pectoral) but will have cornerback Bradley Roby in the lineup. Roby was the No. 1 cornerback for the Houston Texans before a trade just before the opener.

The Panthers brought back cornerback Corn Elder after defensive back Myles Hartsfield’s wrist injury. Hartsfield could miss a couple of months. The secondary also could be short if Juston Burris, who was limited in Wednesday’s work, continues to have neck ailments.

Saints receiver Chris Hogan, who played in seven games with the Panthers in an injury-interrupted 2019 season, said New Orleans had a good mixture on offense.

“I think there’s a lot of good things to build off,” Hogan said. “Hopefully, we can have the same result.”

The New Orleans and Carolina defenses had the best marks against rushing plays in Week 1, but that might have been a byproduct of each of their opponents playing from behind for most of the games.

The Panthers could have right guard John Miller available. He was activated from the COVID list Wednesday so he could practice.

The Panthers also signed kicker Zane Gonzalez, replacing Ryan Santoso (who was with the team for one game). Gonzalez had been on the Detroit Lions practice squad. Santoso was 2-for-2 but missed an extra-point try in his one game with Carolina.

The Saints have won four straight in the series and eight of the past nine meetings. New Orleans is 28-25 all-time against the Panthers. Six of the last 11 regular-season meetings have been decided by three points or fewer.

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–Field Level Media