Brees leads Saints past Panthers in NFC wild card game

Cam Newton

A much anticipated matchup of divisional rivals led to an exciting game but the Panthers inability to slow down quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints offense kept Carolina from advancing.

"It's hard to beat a team three times in a season", has been a popular refrain since the Saints were paired with the Panthers. A first down would have essentially iced the game, and the Saints came out initially in an unsuccessful attempt to draw Carolina offside before calling a timeout.

"It don't matter, as long as we keep getting these W's", Ingram said.

"They blocked it pretty well throughout the day, but I made the play on the last one - the one that counts", Bell said.

But Newton returned with a vengeance, needing just three plays to whirl the Panthers 75 yards and back nipping at the Saints' heels.

But Newton was first called for a controversial grounding call, that took the Panthers 20 yards away from the endzone, and then sacked to end the game. The Panthers simply didn't do enough to turn field goals into touchdowns. But although Cam Newton led the Panthers to the shadow of the end zone and what would have been a last-second, go-ahead touchdown, he effectively ended the game flat on his back, the victim of a voracious Saints defense.

Brees connected on touchdown throws of 80 yards to Ted Ginn Jr. and 9 yards to tight end Josh Hill. But the Panthers killed themselves with red-zone failures.

The only opportunity for Carolina points in the first quarter, was a Graham Gano 25-yard field goal, but it went wide right. The Saints still had a 21-9 lead at halftime and remained up by 12 in the fourth quarter before Newton rallied the Panthers.

Just in case there were any doubts, the record-setting quarterback added another record this season, finishing with the best completion percentage in league history (he now owns three of the top four such seasons). We just tried to come out and execute. They have nobody but themselves to blame for the loss.

But if they don't start soon, this game is going to be over quickly. Olsen got the payoff with a 14-yard slant, and Carolina had cut the deficit to 24-19 with 12:47 left.

Saints safety Von Bell then sacked Newton near midfield on fourth down two plays later, assuring Carolina's third loss to New Orleans this season.

When it takes four seconds to decide whether to throw a flag on a blatant pass interference, in which the cornerback tackled the receiver by the ankles before the ball arrived, the officiating has to be questioned.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera told reporters that Cam was taken into the medical tent only as a precaution and that team doctors were more focused on Newton's eye. Michael Thomas caught eight passes for 131 yards, including a 46-yard grab to set up Kamara's scoring run that put New Orleans ahead 31-19 with 5:08 remaining.

The Panthers nearly made enough plays despite falling behind 31-19 with 5:08 left. The former Auburn All-American got Carolina back within five points with a 56-yard touchdown pass to running back Christian McCaffrey with 4:09 to play.

To be a Super Bowl team, this front has to pick up a secondary that has been solid all season.

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