Bryce Young faced a stiff test for his Carolina Panthers home debut Monday night against a stout New Orleans Saints defense under prime-time lights.
For most of the night, it was a struggle for the rookie quarterback.
The draft's No. 1 pick faced constant pressure as New Orleans ground out a 20-17 win to secure a 2-0 start. The Panthers found moderate success on their first possession with a 31-yard drive that stalled out after a false start penalty and concluded with a field goal. It was mostly downhill from there until Carolina found the end zone for the first time on its final possession of the game.
Young finished the game completing 22 of 33 passes for 153 yards (4.2 yards per attempt) with a late touchdown and no interceptions. He was sacked four times, including a critical strip sack deep in Saints territory that led to a turnover.
The Panthers finished the night with 239 yards of offense against 341 for the Saints. They also lost defensive captain Shaq Thompson to a fractured fibula. Head coach Frank Reich told reporters on Monday that Thompson had surgery and that his season is likely over.
Saints keep pressure on without blitzing
New Orleans routinely applied pressure with a four-man front, forcing Young into mistakes against a backloaded Saints secondary. When the Panthers found themselves in good field position, they failed to capitalize, mustering three points on two possessions that started in Saints territory.
Young found himself behind the sticks early and often with Carolina's second and third possessions ending in three-and-outs after finding itself in first-and-20 and third-and-13 situations. Carolina's second possession ended when Young forced a throw to Adam Thielen in tight coverage that was nearly intercepted by Alontae Taylor.
Alontae Taylor coverage on Adam Thielen 🔥
— Alex 👋 (@Dubs408) September 19, 2023
The Panthers kept things close thanks to a defense that likewise gave Saints quarterback Derek Carr fits. They had a chance to take the lead into halftime after Carr threw an interception to set the Panthers up with the ball at the Saints' 37-yard line.
But Young fumbled on a third-and-6 strip sack that the Saints recovered to go into halftime with a 6-3 lead.
— NFL (@NFL) September 19, 2023
The second half started with near-disaster for Young. The Saints forced another strip-sack turnover that was thwarted by a defensive holding penalty deep in the New Orleans secondary. Carolina maintained possession, but punted four plays later.
Young shows his upside
It wasn’t all bad for Young. He flashed his playmaking upside with a 26-yard scramble in the fourth quarter to convert on third-and-11.
Bryce was outta there ✌️ pic.twitter.com/BKtm4EvHuI
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) September 19, 2023
The run was the first play of longer than 15 yards in Carolina’s season. But the drive ended in another field goal to cut Carolina's deficit to 13-9 after the Saints sacked Young on third-and-3 in the red zone. Young lined up in shotgun behind right guard prior to the sack before running back Miles Sanders nudged him behind center.
— Dr. Jamie Jakes (@jamjks) September 19, 2023
New Orleans responded with a six-play, 79-yard touchdown drive to take a 20-9 lead with 3:14 remaining. Running back Tony Jones Jr. punched it in with a 2-yard run, his second touchdown of the night filling in for Jamaal Williams, who left the game early with a hamstring injury.
The Panthers kept the pressure on late thanks to a a 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with a pass from Young to Thielen.
The touchdown was the first of the season against a Saints defense that kept the Tennessee Titans out of the end zone in Week 1. But Carolina failed to convert on the ensuing on-side kick, allowing New Orleans to run out the clock.
The loss dropped the Panthers to 0-2 on the season. But there were positive takeaways around Young, who showed poise down the stretch in keeping the Panthers alive with their late touchdown drive.
Young will face his next chance to pick up his first NFL victory in Week 3 on the road against the Seattle Seahawks.