Another blocked kick, turnovers continue to sabotage Saints' season

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The New Orleans Saints are stuck in the same nightmare that cost them four days ago against the Denver Broncos.

After another blocked kick and two more turnovers, the Saints trail the Carolina Panthers 20-3 at halftime Thursday night, leaving their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.

The Saints (4-5) had another kick blocked just four days after they lost to the Broncos 25-23 when their extra point attempt was blocked and returned 84 yards for a game-winning two-point conversion.

This time, kicker Wil Lutz's 38-yard field goal attempt was blocked in the final minute of the first half, setting up a 40-yard touchdown pass from Panthers QB Cam Newton to Ted Ginn Jr. in the back of the end zone.

The Saints also turned the ball over twice in the first half -- a sack-fumble by Drew Brees on the opening drive and a wobbly interception by Brees in the second quarter, which led to a total of 10 points by the Panthers.

And the Saints were hurt by kickoff returner Marcus Murphy's fumbled return out of bounds at the 1-yard line in the second quarter and a fumble by tight end Coby Fleener in the first quarter that wiped out a third-down conversion after he dove backward to recover it.

The Saints have turned the ball over six times over their past six quarters.

The special-teams miscues have been a persistent problem. The Saints had a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown in a Week 2 loss at the New York Giants. And two Saints players collided to fumble away a punt return in a Week 3 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Murphy has been inactive for most of this year. He was only up on Thursday because of a toe injury to regular return man Travaris Cadet. Murphy's roster spot could be in jeopardy after his latest miscue.

Last but not least, Saints safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Vonn Bell each aided Carolina drives with late-hit penalties in the first half Thursday. Vaccaro was flagged for sliding into the kicker’s legs after diving to try to block a field goal. And Bell was flagged for hitting Newton late out of bounds after a run play.