By Jonathan Jones
CHARLOTTE — Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson knows what’s important on the stat sheet.
Sacks. Takeaways. And, most importantly, a win.
“If you ain’t getting nothing, you ain’t getting nothing,” Johnson said. “People don’t look at (whether you got close). People look at stats. If I ain’t got none, I ain’t got none.”
That’s also how many wins the Panthers have heading into Sunday’s home opener against the New Orleans Saints. But after giving up an 80-yard opening drive for a touchdown in last Sunday’s 16-10 loss at Tampa Bay, the defense stiffened.
Following that drive, the Panthers held the Bucs to 178 yards of offense and 3-of-12 on third-down conversions.
Though the Panthers don’t get to remove the first drive from the stat sheet, coach Ron Rivera hopes his line can maintain that momentum.
“We’ll find out, we really will,” Rivera said. “We bounced back. After the first series, I thought (defensive coordinator) Sean (McDermott) and the rest of the defensive coaches handled them very well. ...
“It really made a statement as to the type of physical football team we want to be.”
But the statement came after that opening drive.
“Every game, no matter how you play, there’s always spots where you lapse,” defensive end Greg Hardy said. “That’s what can cost you the game. There are moments, quarters, seconds, and we just had that first quarter where the defense and offense couldn’t get it together.”
The Panthers disappointed Rivera by failing to cause any Bucs turnovers, despite emphasizing takeaways in the preseason, and they sacked Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman only twice.
Sunday, the task gets tougher. The Panthers defense will face Drew Brees, who is coming off a 2011 season in which he broke the 27-year-old NFL single-season passing yardage record.
Brees torched the Panthers in their two meetings last year, passing for 748 yards and seven touchdowns. He was sacked twice and intercepted twice.
“They’ve got some really good young pass rushers in Hardy and Johnson,” Brees said. “Then the internal guys seem young and stout. Really their front seven is a very impressive group.”
The Saints are coming off a 40-32 loss to the Washington Redskins, and – like the Panthers – don’t want to fall to 0-2.
“We’re upset, too,” Panthers defensive tackle Ron Edwards said. “We want to win, too.
“We’re coming in with a taste in our mouth that we have to get rid of.”