Saints morning report: Panthers on prowl

METAIRIE, La. – I mentioned the Carolina Panthers as a sneaky-dangerous foe in the NFC South when I broke down the remaining schedule during the Saints’ bye week. But I was wrong. There’s nothing sneaky about the danger the Panthers present.

After a thorough 31-13 rout of Tampa Bay on Thursday night, the Panthers are now 4-3 – just one game behind the Saints (5-1) in the win column. The Panthers have won three games since the Saints’ last victory, in Week 5, narrowing what looked like a sizable gap when the Saints were 5-0 and Carolina was 1-3.

Their head-to-head games figure to be huge, especially since both are scheduled for December. And neither will be easy for New Orleans. The first is a home date in Week 14, but it will come on a short week after the Saints return from a Monday night game in Seattle. The second is at Carolina in Week 16, outdoors in potentially adverse weather conditions.

Impressed by Lewis: Buffalo Bills quarterback Thad Lewis got clobbered last week by Miami linebacker Jelani Jenkins. He got hit so hard that his helmet popped off, yet he still delivered a 17-yard completion to move the chains on third down. That pass (and the 15-yard roughing penalty) led to a field goal, which ultimately helped Buffalo win 23-21.

It also ramped up the respect level for Lewis – both inside his locker room and across the country.

“We saw him get hit in the Miami game and the whole helmet came off and everything. But he stayed in the pocket, he took the hit and he moved on. It hasn’t rattled him. This quarterback definitely has some poise,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “You can tell that his team believes in him even though he doesn’t have that much experience.”

Lewis, 25, will make just his fourth career start when he faces the Saints inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday. He took over as the Bills’ starter two weeks ago after being acquired in a trade with Detroit in August. The fourth-year pro is already with his fourth NFL team since going undrafted out of Duke in 2010.

You might think that lack of experience would have the Saints licking their chops.

But that’s not the case, as they’ve talked about being impressed by Lewis’ poise over these past two weeks. Lewis has thrown for only 418 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. But he helped lead the Bills to a win last week and nearly helped them pulled off an upset at home against Cincinnati in Week 6 before losing in overtime.

He also showed his toughness by playing through a foot injury last week. That limited his mobility, which is considered one of his top assets, along with a strong arm.

“He’s made some big plays,” coach Sean Payton said. “I think, most importantly, his players believe that they can win with him, and that’s half the battle at quarterback.”

Worth a click:

  • The biggest issue with the Bills’ offense right now is whether dynamic running back C.J. Spiller will continue to play through an ankle injury this week. Or if he might require some real rest to get back to being his usual dynamic self. ESPN.com Bills reporter Mike Rodak has the latest here.

  • The Times-Picayune’s Jeff Duncan led off his First-and-10 column with the idea that some young receiver will get the next turn to step up if Saints tight end Jimmy Graham can’t play. Also noteworthy in his column is the franchise’s history of losing games in the final minute, as they did in Week 6 against New England. That was just the third time it has happened in the Payton-Brees era. (The last time? Arguably the most gut-wrenching loss in franchise history, at San Francisco in the 2011 playoffs.)