- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- From losing leading receiver Steve Smith to a knee injury to losing an onside kick, not much went right for the Carolina Panthers in the first half of Sunday's NFC South game against the New Orleans Saints.
Yet the Panthers lead 7-6.
Here are four key observations:
Importance of turnovers: The Panthers failed to force a turnover in the first meeting against New Orleans, a 31-13 loss. That ended a streak of 16 games with at least one. Outside linebacker Thomas Davis came up an interception with 1:54 left in the first half, and the stagnant Carolina offense answered with a 43-yard touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams to take the lead.
Gritty defense: Carolina's second-ranked defense lived up to its stingy reputation in the first half, holding the Saints to two field goals while being on the field for almost 20 minutes. A big key was pressure on quarterback Drew Brees, who was sacked five times.
Red zone blues: The Panthers blew an opportunity to score on their first possession when Cam Newton threw behind receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who tipped the ball that was intercepted by the Saints after Carolina had a first down at the New Orleans 11. It was a reminder of the first game when Carolina had to settle for two field goals inside the red zone in the first quarter for a 6-0 lead instead of taking control.
Smith injured: Carolina lost Smith with a left knee injury in the first quarter. The injury occurred on a freak play where Newton missed Smith in stride over the middle and nobody hit the receiver. Smith tried to return, but was taken back to the locker room where he was ruled out.