By STEVE REED AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tony Jones Jr. ran for two touchdowns, rookie Blake Grupe kicked two field goals and the New Orleans Saints beat the Carolina Panthers, 20-17, on Monday night, improving to 2-0 for the first time since 2013.
Jones replaced the injured Jamaal Williams late in the first half and ran for 34 yards on 12 carries.
The Saints’ defense did the rest, holding Panthers rookie quarterback Bryce Young to 153 yards passing in his home debut. New Orleans limited Carolina (0-2) to 239 yards and sacked Young, the top overall pick in the draft, four times.
The Saints nearly made it two full games without allowing a touchdown before giving up a 3-yard scoring toss from Young to Adam Thielen with 1:16 left in the game. Young’s 2-point conversion pass to Thielen got the Panthers within three, but the Saints recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
Derek Carr, who threw for 305 yards in the Saints’ Week 1 victory over Tennessee, struggled early. He had a badly underthrown interception into triple coverage and missed several other open receivers as the Saints limped into the locker room at halftime with a 6-3 lead.
But Carr improved in the second half.
He found Chris Olave, who made a diving one-handed grab along the left sideline late in the third quarter for a 42-yard gain. That set up Jones’ 2-yard touchdown run to give the Saints a 13-6 lead. Olave had another short grab leading to Jones’ second touchdown with about three minutes to play.
Carr finished with 228 yards passing and the one interception.
The Saints pulled even with unbeaten Atlanta and Tampa Bay atop the NFC South, while the Panthers fell into an early hole.
Young, a former Mater Dei High standout who won the Heisman Trophy at Alabama, spent a good portion of the night under pressure as the offensive line struggled. Carolina couldn’t get much going in the running game; Miles Sanders was limited to 43 yards rushing.
The Panthers’ offensive night was marred by miscues, penalties and mental errors.
In the third quarter, the Panthers brought in Young’s backup, Andy Dalton, presumably to run a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-inches. But before Dalton could take his first snap of the season, guard Cade Mays jumped offside. Eddy Pineiro bailed out the offense with a 54-yard field goal, one of his three on the night.
The Panthers had a chance to tie the game just before halftime while facing third-and-6 at the Saints 18, but Carl Granderson sacked Young and forced a fumble that Paulson Adaebo recovered.
Saints: Williams left the game in midway through the second quarter and did not return.
Panthers: Veteran LB Shaq Thompson was carted off the field late in the first quarter after sustaining a right shin injury and did not return. He was injured late in the first quarter when Saints offensive lineman Trevor Penning and Panthers defensive lineman DeShawn Williams were engaged in a block and rolled up on the back of Thompson’s leg as he was attempting to make a tackle.
Saints: At Green Bay on Sunday.
Panthers: At Seattle on Sunday.
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