The Saints – until their last game – take a 20-17 victory against the Panthers

CHARLOTTE — The Saints knew they would be shorthanded Monday night.

Alvin Kamara has been suspended. Rookie Kendre Miller was inactive with a hamstring. That left only Jamaal Williams healthy, so the Saints had to elevate Tony Jones Jr. from the practice squad, just to have a second back dressed for the game.

Then Williams injured his hamstring midway through the second quarter, so the only real running back left was Jones, who was on and off NFL rosters for four seasons, bouncing around from the Saints to the Seahawks going through the Broncos and Saints in just the last year.

New Orleans’ defense kept Carolina in check all night, but the Saints pulled away in the second half on the first two touchdowns of Jones’ career, an unlikely star in a 20-17 win over the Panthers , giving New Orleans its first 2 touchdowns. -0 start-ups in 10 years.

“I didn’t even know it was going to be just me and (Jamaal), to be honest,” Jones said after the game. “Coach had us doing drills (pregame) and I was like, ‘Dang, there’s only two of us.’ You have to fight. That’s all you have to do.

The Saints (2-0) struggled offensively for much of Monday night, so that midway through the third quarter they found themselves mired in a 6-6 tie with the Panthers, whose No. 1 pick, Bryce Young, was making his home debut. .

New Orleans turned to Jones, and he converted on a third-and-2 at the Carolina 22, then again on a third-and-1 at the 7. On first-and-goal from the 2, he pushed forward, waiting to see officials signal his first NFL touchdown.

“I already knew it was a problem before the play took place,” he said. “I don’t care what I have to do, I score on this one. Four years in the league takes time, but I’m here.”

Tuesday happens to be Jones’ wife Rebecca’s birthday, and even though she was staying home because she was expecting, he knew he had to give her that touchdown ball as a birthday souvenir. Luckily for Jones, he got another chance, with the Saints clinging to a 13-9 lead in the fourth quarter, and he scored another 2-yard touchdown to give him a ball he can guard himself .

“That second one? That’s mine right here,” said Jones, who finished with 34 yards on 12 carries in the win.

The Saints are 2-0, joining the Bucs and Falcons as the NFC South’s unlikely undefeated, and Monday night was not an easy road victory. New Orleans led 6-3 at halftime, its defense limiting the Panthers to just 88 yards. The Saints held the Titans to five field goals in last week’s 16-15 victory, and they nearly went two complete games without giving up a touchdown, until Carolina scored on a Young touchdown pass with 1:16 to play.

“I think it should have gone two games,” said coach Dennis Allen, unhappy with the late disappointment. “So I’m not satisfied. Defensively, I think we’re doing good things. I still think there’s a lot of things we can do better. We’re not going to sit back and pat ourselves on the back. We “I I’m going to go back to work and try to fix the things we didn’t do as well.

The offense, which only found the end zone once last week, finally got Jones’ touchdown in the third quarter after finally finding its passing game downfield. Receiver Chris Olave, who had struggled enough to pass for 14 yards on his first eight targets, sped down the left sideline and scooped up a 42-yard pass from Derek Carr, tapping it with one hand and l ‘catching as he dove to the ground. .

After Carolina scored a field goal to cut the lead to 13-9 with 5:30 left, New Orleans struck again. Carr hit receiver Rashid Shaheed for a 45-yard gain, then Taysom Hill rushed for 19 yards, putting the Saints in the red zone. Jones’ second touchdown gave them a two-point lead with 3:14 left, enough to close out a much-needed division road victory.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” said Carr, who finished with 228 passing yards. “We had a few chances, for sure… There’s so much we need to clean up, but it feels good to clean up when you’re winning. We’re 2-0, and I don’t think we have “We played at the level we all expect. We will continue to strive, work and make these corrections. It feels good to do that in a victory. “

The Saints were swept by the Panthers last season and finished a game away from first place in the division, so a win like this could be the difference in the other direction come January. As of now, they are in a three-way tie for first place at 2-0, although this week they will travel to Green Bay to face the Packers before returning home to face the Bucs in Week 4.

By then, they’ll have Kamara back, maybe Williams as well, which would leave Jones back on the practice squad, but for one night he was front and center in a Saints win.

“We have to fight together,” Jones said of the running backs being a tight-knit group. “If I’m there, Jamaal, it doesn’t matter. His yards are my yards, and my yards are his yards. It doesn’t matter.”

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He’s in his 10th season and covers the Bucs and NFL full-time, having previously spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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