NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints safety Jairus Byrd turned toward cornerback Brandon Browner and put his hands up in apparent disgust over a coverage cross-up that led to an easy touchdown toss for Carolina’s Cam Newton.
Although New Orleans’ beleaguered defense came up with some big plays, there were also many mistakes in a 41-38 loss on Sunday to the unbeaten Panthers.
“We have to take it upon ourselves to know what we’re doing,” Byrd said. “It comes down to us as players, and we’re making mistakes we can’t be making. You can’t say it’s scheme. Us as players have to make sure that we’re all locked in and doing our responsibility.”
In addition to coverage mix-ups, the Saints were hurt by penalties, committing 11 for 104 yards — several of the drive-sustaining variety on third down.
Newton passed for 331 yards and five touchdowns, capped by his 15-yard scoring strike to Jerricho Cotchery with 1:05 to go.
“I expected us to win the football game,” Newton said, adding he wasn’t pleased by how tight the game got at the end against the reeling Saints (4-8), who’ve lost four straight.
“We’ve got to find ways moving forward not to put ourselves in this position. This was a wakeup call for us. And moving forward, we know we can’t just win games by us showing up.”
Drew Brees passed for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Saints linebacker Stephone Anthony returned a fumble 31 yards for a score, and also became the first NFL player to return a blocked extra-point kick for 2 points. The league made a rule change to allow such plays for the first time this season.
“There were a lot of good things, but still too many of the little things that get you beat,” Brees said.
Coach Sean Payton also seemed angry about the officiating on several occasions, including a couple instances when he thought the Panthers should have been flagged for too many players on the field.
“I’m not going to get into the officiating. I said walking into this door (into the interview room) I was not going to get into it,” Payton began. “And it happened twice — 12 men on the field, clearly. And they’re getting that right (in high school games) on Friday nights.”
Carolina led 27-16 after Newton’s 13-yard pass to Devin Funchess, but New Orleans rallied to take a 31-27 lead on Brees’ 54-yard TD to Brandin Cooks and 24-yard scoring pass to Brandon Coleman.
The Panthers went back in front on Newton’s 45-yard pass to Ted Ginn Jr. But New Orleans answered with Mark Ingram’s 9-yard run with 5:21 left, forcing Newton to put together one more touchdown drive.
He narrowly pulled it off, finding tight end Greg Olsen for a first down as he rolled left on a fourth-and-4. Olsen had to fall to the field to make a rolling fingertip grab of the underthrown pass, which was so close to hitting the turf that fans in the Superdome were roaring at replays as Payton asked for a review.
Olsen finished with nine catches for 129 yards.
Cooks had six catches for 104 yards for the Saints.
New Orleans’ defense produced three turnovers and a touchdown in its second game under coordinator Dennis Allen, who took over when Rob Ryan was fired.
However, the Saints’ offense was unable to convert cornerback Delvin Breaux’s interception or Kenny Vaccaro’s recovery of Olsen’s fumble into points. One of those possessions ended in Kai Forbath’s missed 38-yard field goal.
Anthony scored when he ripped the ball away from Jonathan Stewart as the running back tried to push through a pile of players. Carolina players seemed to think the play was over and watched as Anthony raced 31 yards for a 14-0 Saints lead.
“I even thought the play was over,” Anthony said. “I didn’t know whether I should keep running or not. I didn’t hear a whistle, and I kind of waited, then I kept going.”
Early in the second quarter, Carolina cut the lead in half on Mike Tolbert’s 12-yard touchdown catch, set up by Newton’s 30-yard bootleg on fourth-and-1 a couple plays earlier.
Stewart scored on a 5-yard run shortly before halftime, but Graham Gano’s extra point kick was blocked by Kevin Williams and returned 82 yards by Anthony to give New Orleans a 16-13 lead.
NOTES: Breaux left the game in the first half with what Payton said was a hamstring injury. … Panthers safety Kurt Coleman’s interception of Brees was his sixth this season and fifth in his past six games.