Saints count on getting healthy ahead of Carolina’s visit
The New Orleans Saints are expecting to get healthier by the time they face the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in New Orleans.
If not, it could spell serious trouble for the Saints (7-8).
Already out of reach is a repeat as NFC South champions. But their bid to reach the playoffs is ongoing. They’ll need to take care of business against the Panthers in order to have a chance to land in the postseason.
“We got to control what we can control, and our mindset going through this next week is we got to get a win,” Saints linebacker Pete Werner said. “Winning is on our mind, and we got to go out and execute.”
New Orleans played Monday night with 22 players on the COVID/reserve list. Two of those players were quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian, meaning rookie Ian Book was summoned for his first NFL start.
The Saints insist that there’s still something to build on there and are not dwelling on the idea that one or both quarterbacks might’ve been able to play under the latest update to the NFL COVID protocol.
“Every week is different,” receiver Marquez Callaway said. “Different scheme. Different itinerary we go through. But throughout the weeks, you learn from your past week, the week before that.”
The Panthers (5-10) are on a five-game losing streak and have been eliminated from playoff contention.
“We want the wins,” Panthers receiver Robby Anderson said. “If you learn from a loss, you grow from it. We’re going through growing pains.”
Carolina’s offense has been in shambles, with Cam Newton unable to orchestrate a victory in five games as a starter this season. Sam Darnold will return to the starting role this week, coach Matt Rhule said Wednesday, in his second game back following an absence with a shoulder injury.
Fans booed the Panthers at times last week, so playing their last two games on the road might turn out to be a good situation.
“We don’t want (any) fake fans,” Anderson said. “We want diehard, loyal fans.”
New Orleans still presents a tough defense, doing its part of much of the 20-3 loss to Miami on Monday night. The Saints shut out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the game before that.
Adding to the Panthers’ problems has been attention on Rhule’s status. With Rhule only in his second season, there’s plenty of grumbling coming from the fan base for a team that has wrapped up its home schedule.
“I’m going to … try to put together the best plan for our guys this week,” Rhule said. “I hope that our players respect that and appreciate that.”
Carolina isn’t free from COVID issues, with six players placed on the protocol list Monday to push the total number to 12 by midweek. Plus, cornerback Stephon Gilmore is likely out with a groin injury.
The Saints still have a chance to recover from their evolving roster dilemmas.
“I’ve quickly learned in the NFL, it’s about depth,” Werner said. “It’s about taking these opportunities, learning from them and going out and executing because, then again, it’s the NFL. You’re here for a reason.”
The Panthers beat the Saints 26-7 in the second week of the season.
The Saints are Carolina’s most-frequent opponent. New Orleans leads the series 27-26.
–Field Level Media