Saints linebacker Junior Galette doesn’t care that he played the best game of his career when he faced quarterback Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in New Orleans just a couple of weeks ago.
As he sees it, that same kind of effort won’t cut it when the Saints (10-4) visit Carolina (10-4) on Sunday and try to clinch the NFC South title, the No. 2 seed in their conference, a first-round bye in the postseason and the right to host a divisional playoff game.
“We’re going to have to bring way more than we brought last time because they’re going to have adjustments,” said Galette, who had a career-high three sacks of Newton in a 31-13 victory Dec. 8 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. “They’re going to be prepared for what we did last time — we’re definitely going to have to be better, because we know how crucial this game is for us.”
Still, however the Saints counteract any wrinkles their divisional rivals throw at them on offense, they’ll seek the same result that they already achieved once this year: hold Newton well below his career average of 280.9 yards from scrimmage.
The former Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn and the first pick of the 2011 draft won’t make that easy. The Panthers and Newton are 6-1 at Bank of America Stadium and haven’t lost there since dropping their opener to the Seattle Seahawks (12-2), who have the best record in the NFL.
They’ll be in the mood to retaliate for the five third-down sacks they gave up to the Saints, who limited the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton to 160 passing yards and 48 on the ground.
New Orleans only let him throw for one touchdown; he had been accounting for more than two TDs per game this year. And the Saints prevented him from completing any passes longer than 17 yards, snapping the Panthers’ franchise-best eight-game winning streak.
“Long story short, we didn’t get the job done as an offense,” Newton said. “That is going to need to increase for us to have any type of chance of winning this game coming up.”
Last week, while the Saints were busy losing 27-16 at St. Louis (6-8), Newton got back on track at home. He passed for 273 yards in a 30-20 win over the New York Jets; among his throws were a screen pass that went for a 72-yard score and deep shots that gained 36 and 23 yards.
Newton’s TD throw against the Jets was his 21st of the season. He also leads the Panthers with six scores on the ground; he has rushed 95 times for 507 yards.
That running ability hasn’t only helped him compile the second-most rushing yards among NFL quarterbacks. It also has enabled him to evade pass rushers and buy more time for his receivers to get open.
Though Newton is much more accurate and effective throwing underneath, he served up a reminder that he’s capable of hitting long passes, too.
“He drops deep. He pivots right. He goes left. He does legitimately everything possible in his will to extend the play,” said Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who had two of his team-leading 11.5 sacks against Newton. “And he does. He’s one of the better ones to do it.”
New Orleans linebacker Curtis Lofton added, “It’s tough covering receivers six, seven, eight seconds. ... They’re going to get open. (The Saints’ front seven has) to shut him down. Don’t let him get out the pocket, and make him be a pocket quarterback.”
Failing to do what Lofton described may let Newton induce flashbacks to Dec. 2, when the elusive Russell Wilson completed bombs of 60, 52 and 33 yards against the Saints in a 34-7 Seahawks win in Seattle. Wilson threw for three TDs and 310 yards, and he tacked on 47 yards on the ground.
“If we do our job up front and get there,” Galette said, “we’ll make (Newton) feel our presence like we did the first time.”
To those sentiments, Newton essentially said, “Good luck, Saints.”
“If I would’ve stepped up in the pocket or I threw the football away, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion, and that is what I plan on doing in this game coming up,” he said.
“Sacks ... are killers and momentum (swingers), and we can’t give those guys any momentum in this game because the team that has the most spark will win this football game.”