Armstead struggles early in Saints debut

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The New Orleans Saints’ bold switch at left tackle didn’t work out as they'd hoped. Rookie Terron Armstead struggled early before finally settling in during the second half of Sunday’s 17-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Armstead gave up two sacks where he was clearly beat by Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy in the first half, and at least one more in which quarterback Drew Brees probably held on to the ball too long. Armstead also committed two false-start penalties.

But after the game, everyone from Brees to coach Sean Payton to Armstead himself spoke optimistically about the way he survived the early onslaught.

“I played a decent game. I gave it everything I had. I had a couple of mistakes that need to be corrected,” said Armstead, a third-round draft choice from Arkansas-Pine Bluff who hadn’t played an offensive snap until Payton decided to bench veteran Charles Brown and replace him with the rookie this week.

Armstead said he got more comfortable as the game went along and understood better what the Panthers were trying to do up front. He also said his teammates were “great.”

“They were behind me 100 percent. Even after I had a mistake here and there, they were still behind me,” Armstead said. “That’s all I’m trying to do is learn and get better every game.”

Brees was sacked six times in all – tied for the most in his eight years with the Saints. But he was correctly critical of himself for holding the ball too long on certain occasions – and complimentary of Carolina’s pass coverage, which was outstanding throughout the game.

“I felt like he played great, and our line played great,” Brees said. “Some of those sacks were on me, just getting the ball out, especially when we were in field-goal range.”

The Saints’ other big roster move this week – releasing kicker Garrett Hartley and signing veteran Shayne Graham – worked out fine. Graham made both of his field-goal attempts, from 40 and 24 yards.

Payton also made some bold moves during the game, and the results were also hit-and-miss.

The Saints successfully converted a surprise onside kick in the first half, which let to a field goal an early 6-0 lead. But they failed when attempting a fake field goal in the second half, with backup quarterback Luke McCown throwing incomplete to a well-covered Jimmy Graham.

“We weren’t holding anything back,” Brees said. “We were playing to win.”