Saints hold off Panthers in NFC wildcard game

Linebacker Shaq Thompson and the rest of the Panthers defense are looking for some redemption against the Saints in their third meeting this season

Linebacker Shaq Thompson and the rest of the Panthers defense are looking for some redemption against the Saints in their third meeting this season

And let's face it, the Saints are a better team. It backfired when Brees' pass as he scrambled to his right was intercepted by Adams, giving Carolina the ball at its 31 with 1:51 to go.

Carolina heads home with a final record of 11-6, and through 23 seasons, the franchise record - including the postseason - is 192-192-1.

Brees tried to chew up the last of the clock, and he succeeded in devouring Carolina's timeouts, but the Saints drive stalled at midfield. It'll be interesting to see if this game has any draining factor on the Saints next week. Gano missed a 25-yard attempt in the first quarter.

Sean Peyton dialed up play action at the ideal times, getting favorable matchups and clearing space for Brees to operate.

Newton had to leave Carolina's next series after taking a hard hit, and when he came back into the game, the Panthers trailed by 12 again.

But an incompletion, an intentional-grounding penalty, another incompletion and a sack ended the Panthers' season.

"It doesn't matter what I think, but that game didn't come down to that" call, he said. Two plays later, Brees hit ex-Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who got behind Panthers cornerback James Bradberry for an 80-yard touchdown. But the Panthers killed themselves with red-zone failures.

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Caleb Clay dropped a sure touchdown in the first quarter and a play later Graham Gano - the most accurate kicker in the National Football League this season - missed a chip shot from 25 yards.

The Saints led 21-9 at halftime, and 24-12 heading into the fourth quarter. "He saw me the other day and said, 'Make the layup.' So I said, I'm going to break it down and make this layup".

"We just couldn't score". "Clearly we knew coming in that they were going to be a tough out".

When asked if Newton went through the concussion protocol, Coach Ron Rivera said: "No, he actually got poked in the eye".

On Sunday, Carolina held the duo to a combined 19 carries for 45 yards and one touchdown.

The Saints beat Carolina for the third time this season and punched their ticket to Minnesota for the divisional round.

But Brees couldn't find an open receiver, was flushed out of the pocket and decided his best option was to throw it up for grabs. On the 14th play of a 63-yard Carolina drive, Newton rifled a pass into the end zone, into the hands of Kaelin Clay ... and right through the hands of Kaelin Clay. What did in the Panthers' defense was an inability to cover wideout Michael Thomas, who caught eight of his nine targets for 131 yards.

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Alvin Kamara capped the march with a 2-yard run that left the Saints ahead 31-19 with 5:08 to play.

Newton finished 24 of 40 passing for 349 yards and two touchdowns, including a 56-yard scoring strike to Christian McCaffrey that pulled the Panthers within a touchdown with 4:09 left.

That defense was key to the Saints' return to relevance this season, after being ranked 27, 31 and 31 on that side of the ball the past three years.

The Saints lost starting left guard Andreas Peat with a leg injury in the second quarter and his teammates rallied in his absence.

"I had Roman Harper (former Saint safety from the Super Bowl XLIV champions who was at the game) in my head", Bell said.

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