DATELINE: Charlotte, NC (Saints pull quite the U-turn in Carolina)

If ever there was a poster boy for the Saints complete about face in Carolina, it was Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro.

A week ago he was unceremoniously benched by Sean Payton for lackluster play and missed assignments…a week later he was in the middle of quite the extreme makeover for a Saints defense which was left for dead by many after only two weeks of play.

Starting the day ranked last in virtually every meaningful category, the Saints D found a new identity in Carolina forcing its first three turnovers of the year where Vaccaro was in the middle of the fun—picking one Cam Newton pass and tipping another one to rookie Marcus Williams who made an incredible one handed snag..

“It was fantastic,” Sean Payton said. “I thought we did a good job defensively against some of the different personnel groupings that we got.”

Vaccaro was symbolic of the entire Saints effort on Sunday—a complete turnaround where it seems you can’t count this team out yet. This despite getting embarrassed in the first two weeks of play and having been decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball in areas where they could least afford them.

While the D stepped up, the Saints offense returned to old form in EVERY way imaginable.

The first two weeks they couldn’t convert in the red zone.

They were awful on third down and simply couldn’t run the football.

Miraculously, all of the above were reversed versus the Panthers which is the ultimate irony given Carolina has traditionally been the Saints kryptonite—the only NFC South destination which has dished out a losing record to both Payton and Brees.

What made it more impressive was the Saints offense did it against the top ranked defense after only two weeks of football.

Brees was vintage Brees as he did everything Sunday which has made him a future Hall of Famer.

He spread the wealth—finding nine different targets and three different ones in the endzone in Michael Thomas, Brandon Coleman and for the first time Tedd Ginn who enjoyed his Carolina homecoming.

“Felt great to get a win,” Brees said afterwards. “Felt great to break the seal. I think we as a team have been making steps in the right direction and it’s just little things.I think we all felt like we were a lot closer than maybe it seemed or felt.”

“It was good to get one,” Payton said following his first victory since beating the Bucs last December. “Obviously there is that sense of urgency.”

Yes the Saints needed this one in so many ways—the odds are long to make the playoffs at 0-3 and they didn’t want those odds weighing on them in their long flight to London.

Once they arrive across the pond, they will welcome back Willie Snead to complement a unit which is growing with confidence and now has a chance to get back to .500 before its bye week.

In our exclusive CST Brees interview after the game, I asked Drew given the circumstances entering the game, was their anything that surprised even him? As usual he wants this offense to get even better.

“I still feel like there were points out there, there was a big play here or there that would have been nice to have. So when we’re hitting on all cylinders, we’ll be getting those as well.”

These Saints were close to humming at full speed in Carolina—a needed 180 change of direction which gives them new life heading forward.

An unexpected change for many but you got the feel in the locker room, this group still believed.


NO DOUBTING THOMAS: Entering the game Saints main target Michael Thomas had been steady but not his spectacular rookie self— that changed versus the Panthers. He made an immediate impact where he came in with 10 catches in his first two games but had an amazing “five” on the Saints first drive.”It’s good stuff right, ” Brees told me afterwards. “He’s a playmaker, we had a good game plan and we executed it”

THIRD DOWN REVERSAL: The Saints at one point in the game were an amazing 5 of 7 on third down where routinely versus Carolina they came up big in an area which had eluded them versus the Vikings and Patriots. “It is something we worked on, “Payton told me. “The guys did a good job, we spread the ball around a little bit. I thought Drew played well. I thought we did a good job of running against a good front.”

CRAWLEY ISLAND: It’s been well chronicled the Saints secondary has been hit hard with injuries where it was one thing to lose Delvin Breaux but then they lose first round pick Marshon Lattimore—time for someone to step up and that Saint would be Ken Crawley. He made the most of his start by leading the team in tackles, had a tackle for a loss and two big pass deflections. While PJ Williams had his first interception of the year and seeing Crawley’s good game—this team is building quaity depth as they await the return of Breaux and Lattimore.

KAMARA TIME: Easily the best game of the season for the Saints running game where Mark Ingram ran hard leading the team on the ground by averaging four yards a touch but the longest run of the day was turned in by Saints rookie Alvin Kamara whose 25 yard burst sealed the game and was his first career NFL score.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT….. While the Saints win was huge, it seemed to take a backseat to the dominant NFL storyline of how several players around the league chose to protest during the National Anthem. The Saints had nine players protest including the likes of Vaccaro, Ingram, Cam Jordan and Adrian Peterson. While these statements have been ongoing since Colin Kaepernick started them last season–they were fueled further by President Trump’s recent tweets where on Friday he sent out a tweet that NFL owners who see players “disrespecting the flag” should say “get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.”

Whatever your political persuasion is or how you feel about the protests, the fact our president of the United States is recklessly communicating in this fashion is a bad look for our country and shows an extreme flaw in his leadership capabilities.

A notion shared by Saints Head Coach Sean Payton who eloquently shared this opinion when asked about the diverse comments—“I would say, personally, I am disappointed in the comments that were made. I think we need a little bit more wisdom in that office. That’s being a little blunt but that’s how I feel. I want that guy (Trump) to be one of the smarter guys in the room and it seems like every time he’s opening his mouth, it’s something that is dividing our country and not pulling us together.”

Couldn’t have said it better.

Mike Nabors