Carolina stuffed enough bad plays into Sunday's game against New Orleans to last a month. The offense couldn't block the Saints and botched the one time it reached the goal line.
Yet, on a day when the Panthers were outplayed, they drove for a field goal they needed, stopped New Orleans on four plays and exited the Superdome with a 22-20 victory that was earned by guts and grit and not execution.
"What you saw today was our team mature," Carolina coach Dom Capers said. "For the second week in a row we've done what we had to do to win a football game.
"You could see throughout the game we had a tough time blocking them up front. What I liked about our football team is that I think everybody on that sideline felt that if we just hung in there and kept snapping the ball, we'd find a way to win this game."
John Kasay's five field goals finally provided the answer.
Kasay continued his masterful season with field goals of 51, 22, 29, 51 and 23 yards.
The last one, with 2:09 left, enabled the Panthers to win for the first time in a dome despite quarterback Kerry Collins suffering a minor sprain to his left knee in the fourth quarter.
"I felt something pop in there, but fortunately it was just a minor sprain," Collins said. "I'll be fine. I think I'll be back for San Francisco [Sept. 22]."
Had this been 1995, general manager Bill Polian said, it would have been a game Carolina "couldn't win. Didn't have a chance to win."
New Orleans (0-2) simply out-played Carolina (2-0) much of the game before 43,288 fans at the Superdome.
The Saints had no trouble with Carolina's blitzes, and quarterback Jim Everett took advantage of good protection to strafe the secondary for 255 yards on a 22-of-32 day.
He lobbed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Torrance Small to beat cornerback Eric Davis. He burned cornerback Tyrone Poole with a 51-yard throw to Michael Haynes and capped that drive with a 27-yard touchdown strike to Haywood Jeffires. His only turnover came with Panthers linebacker Lamar Lathon slammed into him from behind and forced a fumble that nose tackle Greg Kragen recovered. Lathon had two sacks and seven tackles as he continued his torrid start to the season.
Carolina got a spark in the first quarter when, following a punt, Winslow Oliver found a seam down the left side thanks to a block by Andre Royal and sprinted 84 yards to score. And Kasay gave the Panthers another lift when his second 51-yarder, in the fourth quarter, gave Carolina a 19-17 lead.
That lead soon disappeared. Saints halfback Mario Bates ran into trouble heading right but cut back and dashed 33 yards to put New Orleans in field-goal range. Carolina stopped the Saints after Brett Maxie batted down a third-down pass, but Doug Brien's 43-yard field goal pushed New Orleans in front 20-19 with just 7:40 to play.
With Carolina unable to block New Orleans up front, the Panthers went to quick passes that negated the Saints' pass rush. Collins hit rookie Muhsin Muhammad for 18 yards, Mark Carrier for 14, Carrier again for 13 and then Muhammad for 5.
That last pass proved costly. New Orleans' Rufus Porter slammed into the left knee of Collins, and Collins went down in pain. He walked off the field but didn't play again.
Steve Beuerlein replaced Collins and handed off to Tshimanga Biakabutuka four straight times as Carolina pushed the ball to the Saints' 1. On second down, Beuerlein faked to Biakabutuka and rolled left to try to run into the end zone. Instead, Renaldo Turnbull slammed into him for a 9-yard loss. Two snaps later, Kasay's fifth field goal gave Carolina a 22-20 lead.
From there, the defense took over. Unable to hold the Saints much of the game, Carolina snuffed the Saints in four plays.
"We knew it was on our shoulders," safety Pat Terrell said. "We have a belief in ourselves. We believe if we do our job, we'll be successful."
Everett threw incomplete on first down when Sam Mills nearly intercepted. A second-down throw to Irv Smith netted only 7 yards. Cornerback Poole knocked away a third-down throw to Smith. On fourth down, Mills blitzed and forced Everett to heave a quick pass that skipped along the turf.