CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The record is not as flashy, the offensive numbers not as gaudy and the New Orleans Saints aren't running away from the competition like last year.
The defending Super Bowl champions still like where they sit, however. Of course, everybody seems to gain confidence playing the dreadful Carolina Panthers.
With Drew Brees shaking off an early interception to throw two touchdown passes and Jabari Greer's interception return giving the defense its first TD of the season, New Orleans routed the Panthers 34-3 on Sunday.
The Saints (6-3) overcame the loss of tight end Jeremy Shockey to a rib injury after his touchdown catch to stay a half-game behind Atlanta in the NFC South. Rookie tight end Jimmy Graham caught his first NFL TD in Shockey's absence and the Saints held Carolina to 195 yards for their second straight win.
"We're used to last year where we ran off 13 in a row. That's hard to do," Brees said. "You know that feeling once you get on a roll and you feel like everything is going to go our way. You just believe it. We want to get back to that feeling again."
Building off an emotional home victory over Pittsburgh a week earlier, the Saints never gave the Panthers (1-7) a chance.
Carolina lost quarterback Matt Moore and running back Jonathan Stewart to first-half injuries, further depleting the league's worst offense. Rookie QB Jimmy Clausen was later benched and the Panthers finished with 195 yards.
"Pretty pathetic," said receiver Steve Smith, held without a catch until the final minute. "That would be the only thing I have to say. There are no explanations, no excuses."
It ensured the Saints would enter their bye week with as many wins as any team in the NFC.
"I think that this was a game that is really going to give our team the confidence, the know-how and the blueprint to get to where we want to get to," Greer said.
New Orleans got a boost to its banged-up secondary with the return of Greer and Tracy Porter to complete its first season sweep of Carolina since 2001.
The Panthers went 1-15 that season, and this year is looking just as bad.
"I think they tried," coach John Fox said. "I think we're not real good right now -- on offense -- not as a football team."
Moore was 3 of 6 for 13 yards before leaving with an injured throwing shoulder after Sedrick Ellis sacked him in the second quarter. Clausen was no better and Greer returned his poor pass 24 yards to make it 27-3 late in the third quarter.
The embattled Fox yanked Clausen early in the fourth quarter after he completed 8 of 18 passes for 47 yards. Rookie Tony Pike then made his NFL debut. The sixth-round pick from Cincinnati finished 6 of 12 for 47 yards.
"There probably wasn't much fear of a comeback at that point in the game," Fox said of benching Clausen. "It gave [Pike] valuable time."
By then, the Panthers were down to a skeleton crew and few of their home fans were still in the stands.
Stewart, starting with DeAngelo Williams (foot) missing his second straight game, left in the first quarter with a head injury after gaining 30 yards on five carries.
The Saints won a replay challenge on the play, giving them the ball when it was ruled Stewart fumbled. It set up Brees' 7-yard touchdown pass to Shockey to give New Orleans the lead for good at 7-3.
Shockey, though, injured his ribs on what was his 500th career catch and didn't return. He was sent to the hospital just before halftime.
"We took him just to make sure there was nothing else more serious," coach Sean Payton said. "The X-rays were negative."
The Saints didn't need him, not with the Panthers failing to reach double digits in points for the fourth time in eight games. And even the backups got hurt -- third-string running back Tyrell Sutton left with an ankle injury.
Brees bobbled a snap and rushed a throw that bounced off Robert Meachem's hands and was picked off by Richard Marshall. He returned Brees' 12th interception -- one more than he had all of last season -- 67 yards to set up John Kasay's 20-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
That was the only offensive success for the Panthers, who finished with 68 yards passing and had two more turnovers to give them 25 on the season.
But with few options, Fox said Moore would start next week at Tampa Bay if he's healthy.
"I think he can operate our offense the best of the quarterbacks," Fox said. "unless we decide to go to the wishbone."
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