Cam Newton ran the New Orleans Saints out of their home stadium — figuratively and literally.
Minutes after Carolina’s 41-10 rout Sunday afternoon, the majority of the Saints defense — more than two dozen players — was absent in the locker room, a drastic contrast to the normal postgame atmosphere.
That left the responsibility of explaining Newton’s four-touchdown effort to the media to starting linebackers Curtis Lofton and Parys Haralson. Reserve linebacker Ronald Powell was also in the locker room, which opened to the media following coach Sean Payton’s news conference.
“It’s embarrassing,” Lofton said. “We apologize to our fans. The coaches. Us as players, we take responsibility. We didn’t take care of business. It was bad football today.”
Newton passed for 155 yards and three scores and rushed for 83 yards on 12 carries and another score.
“I feel as if anybody could have ran it,” Newton said, pleased with his effort. “There were no moves I made. I wasn’t touched until I got in the secondary.”
He was right.
Running back Jonathan Stewart averaged 7.8 yards a carry en route to 155 yards, his best outing since 2009. He also scored on a 69-yard run in the third quarter.
As a team, the Panthers (4-8-1) rushed for 271 yards (6.8 average).
Here’s how bad the Saints run defense was Sunday: In the third quarter, Newton dropped a snap while in shotgun, fumbled around with it on the turf then, with no defenders near him, ran for 9 yards.
Later in the drive, Newton ran up the middle for 2 yards before ducking under a tackle. Fans thought he was injured, potentially putting an end to his torment of the Saints defense. Yet as soon as the cheers started, he popped up, ready to inflict more yardage.
He smiled and taunted the defenseless Saints defense and its crowd of 73,006 fans, laughing after scrambles and posing for his signature “Superman” TD celebration.
The later caused a melee that lasted more than 10 seconds in the second quarter. That was the most fight the Saints defense managed against Newton, and it still wasn’t enough to stay in control of its playoff hopes, even in a weak NFC South.
“Our tackling was awful,” Payton said. “If we would have kept going, they were going to get almost 300 yards rushing. It was awful.”
Last time Newton faced the Saints, he left Bank of America Stadium with his worst performance as a pro. Now, it was Lofton leaving the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after an effort he deemed his franchise’s worst since arriving in 2012.
Asked if he understood the reason behind Sunday’s defensive performance, Lofton said, “I’d like to point to some, but I really can’t. You just have to go out and do your job, and we didn’t do that.”
He did say the defense’s chemistry isn’t as good as it could be. The caveat is, Lofton said he’s witnessed the effort and preparation at practices. It just has failed to carry over to game days.
Perhaps the real answer, like Payton always says, is in the game film.
Asked if teammates “gave up,” in the second half, Lofton said: “Mmmm, you know, I can’t speak to anyone else. I was just out trying to take care of my job. The film will say it all. If someone did quit, the film will say it.”