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Blog: Saints top Panthers 31-13

Posted December 8, 2013

The New Orleans Saints improve to 10-3 with a 31-13 win over the Panthers Sunday.

5:22 fourth quarter; Saints 31, Panthers 13: Cam Newton connected with Steve Smith for a 17-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 31-13.

9:58 fourth quarter; Saints 31, Panthers 6: Saints Jimmy Graham grabbed his second touchdown on the night after an eight-yard pass.

4:21 third quarter; Saints 24, Panthers 6: Garrett Hartley hit a 19-yard field goal for the 24-6 lead over the Panthers in the third.

0:22 second quarter; Saints 21, Panthers 6: Saints Jimmy Graham scored on a five-yard pass from Drew Brees to extend New Orleans lead to 21-6 at the half.

2:49 second quarter; Saints 14, Panthers 6: Marques Colston scored on two passes from Drew Brees to put the Saints up 14-6 late in the second. The first Colston score was a 6-yard pass, the second a 15-yarder.

1:59: first quarter; Panthers 6, Saints 0: Graham Gano nailed another field goal, this time from 24-yards out to put the Panthers up 6-0.

8:47 first quarter; Panthers 3, Saints 0: Carolina's Graham Gano hit a 45-yard field goal to put the Panthers up 3-0 in the first quarter.


In short order, you will find out the identity of the NFC South's best team.

With two meetings scheduled over the next three weeks, the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints are set to battle for division supremacy as well as a potential first-round bye in the NFC playoff picture.

Things get started this Sunday night in the Big Easy with the sequel set for Charlotte on Dec. 22.

"It's like you're getting the best of the best," NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said when talking about this week's affair, which will air nationally on "Sunday Night Football."

"You're going to see Carolina's defense, led by Luke Kuechly, going into the Superdome where we've seen everybody struggle to try and stop that offense with Drew Brees. It's going to be fantastic."

Fantastic indeed.

Carolina has won a franchise-record eight consecutive games, including last week's dominating 27-6 victory over Tampa Bay. For their next trick the Panthers will attempt to become just the second NFL team to win nine consecutive this season (joining Kansas City) and the first club to beat Brees and Co. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton passed for two touchdowns and rushed for another against the Bucs, while Carolina's defense, which leads the NFL in fewest points allowed (157), limited Tampa Bay to 206 total net yards and no touchdowns.

Newton threw for 263 yards with two interceptions while adding 68 yards and a TD on the ground. Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. each had touchdown catches in the rout.

"People want to keep pointing at me, but the truth of the matter is our defense is playing lights out and giving us opportunities," admitted Newton.

The Saints, meanwhile, are 6-0 at home this season and Brees leads the NFL with a 122.2 home passer rating, which includes 19 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

However, New Orleans was blitzed in Seattle on Monday night when Russell Wilson had three touchdowns passes and the Seahawks became the first team to clinch a playoff spot with a resounding 34-7 win over the Saints.

The Seattle defense did its part on Monday, limiting Brees to just 147 yards and a touchdown on 23-for-38 passing, and allowing the Saints to cross midfield just once in the first three quarters while also stopping NOLA twice on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

The seven total points matched the lowest output the Saints have scored since Sean Payton took over the team in 2006, while the 188 total yards accrued were the fewest in Payton-era.

"That first half was real tough and we just couldn't get anything going," said Brees. "We had a bunch of three-and-outs before we had that one drive where we scored. But after that we just couldn't do much at all. We took one in the chin today."

With the loss, its first since dropping a game in New York to the Jets on Nov. 3, New Orleans fell into a tie for first in the NFC South with Carolina, and two games behind the Seahawks for the conference's top spot.

"We'll make sure we'll get the corrections made because there's a lot of things we didn't do well," said Payton. "It's a short week and we have some work to do here."

The Panthers lead the all-time series with the Saints by a slim 19-17 margin after sweeping the season series a year ago.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

This is your classic matchup of strength versus strength pitting New Orleans' powerful offense against Carolina's league-leading D.

Forget the Saints team you saw in Seattle, this is a totally different bunch on the fast track in the dome. New Orleans is unbeaten and averages 33.2 points a game at home this season while outscoring opponents 199-95 in six contests.

The Panthers, on the other hand, have won four consecutive on the road and their defense is allowing an NFL-low 13.1 points per game and only 289.8 yards per contest, second best in football. Carolina is also the last team to actually beat the Saints in NOLA, earning a 44-38 decision last December.

"There are a lot of things they're doing offensively that make you say, 'Wow,'" Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "A lot of people thought last year that Jimmy Graham had an off-year, but now watching him he looks like he's in the form he was two years ago. Darren Sproles, I've got a bottle of Tums next to me because he is a heck of a football player. And Drew Brees is having a classic Drew Brees season."

Rivera touched on the two players that make the New Orleans offense so difficult to deal with, matchup nightmares Graham and Sproles.

The lengthy Graham has 68 receptions for 988 yards and 12 TDs on the season and six 100-yard games, the most ever for a tight end, while Sproles leads all NFL running backs with 216 catches, 1,872 receiving yards and 16 receiving TDs since 2011.

Helping matters for Carolina could be the possible return of star pass rusher Charles Johnson, who has missed the last two games with a sprained knee. Johnson leads the Panthers with 8 1/2 sacks and since the 2010 season is one of just two NFL players with 40-plus sacks (41.5) and 10-plus forced fumbles (10).

Kuechly, meanwhile, has settled in as the best middle linebacker in the game, compiling 266 tackles since debuting in 2012, the most in all of football over that period.

The Carolina offense isn't nearly as formidable save for the dynamic Newton, who has thrown 19 touchdowns and rushed for six more so far this season. Veteran receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen have been Newton's favorite targets but neither will pop the top off a defense at this stage.

Newton, though, seems to have realized that he can live to play another down so to speak and punting the football isn't the worst thing in the world with his defense.

Taking care of the football is paramount to the Panthers and Newton has done so in recent weeks, although he did throw two picks against Tampa Bay. Overall, Carolina has turned it over just seven times during its winning streak and is one of only five teams with a plus-10 turnover ratio.

"We know that we're going to have to minimize these turnovers," Newton said.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

A dismal trip to Seattle and a short week for the Saints was further exacerbated when the team's chartered flight out of the Pacific Northwest was delayed a day.

"It's a setback and now you're on a short week, but we have to make the corrections," Payton said. "We have to quickly get focused on Carolina. They're playing as good football as anybody in the league right now."

The best way to forget about the Seahawks and Seattle is to get back on the horse in the dome and halt Carolina's franchise-record winning streak.

Expect the fast track to be the difference here before the Panthers rebound to hold serve in Charlotte down the road.

29 Comments

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  • BB5 part deux Dec 8, 12:41 p.m.

    Hope the Panthers pull it off but they likely stumble in this one...return the favor later in Charlotte.

  • neal7694 Dec 8, 1:33 p.m.

    As much as I want the Panthers to win today I would have to give the edge to the Saints but let them come to Charlotte in two weeks and we should return the favor. If we can get our running game going tonight we can keep Drew on the bench were he can't do any damage. Let's have several of those 8 minute drives on our way to scoring, if that happens we can pull it out.

  • Gunnstigator Dec 8, 1:37 p.m.

    I don't see the Panthers winning this game, but I do hope they can at least split with the Saints. I don't like this schedule where the Saint/Panthers play each other twice in three weeks.

  • DUKE4EVER Dec 8, 2:40 p.m.

    Looking forward to watching this one tonight.

  • iron fist Dec 8, 3:13 p.m.

    The picture says it all. I hope the Saints march all over Cam

  • mittnfriends Dec 8, 4:54 p.m.

    The picture says it all. I hope the Saints march all over Cam

    — Posted by iron fist

    And what is that? That out 9 games, an NFL team is bound to lose 1? That someone gave Cam the oh so fitting nickname Super Man and millions of people ran with it? That the NFL, like all other sports, is filled with athletes who celebrate when they do something good? That Cam is a QB of color and isn't cookie cutter? What is it? Please explain.

  • 2ND AMENDMENT Dec 8, 5:02 p.m.

    I really hate the flex scheduling. I'm sure it's just fine if you live on the west coast but some of us actually work for a livin and 11:30 on a Sunday night BLOWS!
    Not to mention it's just torture to sit and wait all day for the game.

    With that, the Panthers have Johnson and Deangelo back for this game. Panthers are number one at stopping the run and points allowed. With a steady dose of pressure on Brees and some consistency with accurate throws from Cam, this should be a great game. The Panthers can win this game. Dont be surprised if they do.

  • iron fist Dec 8, 6:03 p.m.

    The picture says it all. I hope the Saints march all over Cam

    — Posted by iron fist

    And what is that? That out 9 games, an NFL team is bound to lose 1? That someone gave Cam the oh... View More

    — Posted by mittnfriends

    Nothing to do with color I don't care if he white, black, purple or any other color I just do not like his antics on the field. I do not think super man is fitting for the not so super Cam. He is average at best. The Panther's defense is winning games not Cam and the offense. Cam has improved his sideline behavior but he still has a long way to go. And for athletes in football and all other sports, some do go to far in their celebrating and I don't like that either. This is not an individual sport its a "TEAM" game and Cam needs to learn that quickly. He is not bigger than the game itself.

  • PanthersFan45 Dec 8, 6:49 p.m.

    "The Carolina offense isn't nearly as formidable save for the dynamic Newton, who has thrown 19 touchdowns and rushed for six more so far this season"

    He's having a good season and is showing leadership. He'll need to be sharp tonight in a very loud superdome. Saints will have a lot to prove after being blown out at Seattle last monday night. Been a great day of football with plenty of snow games. My play of the day though goes to Praters 64 yd FG that set a new NFL record .... it clearly gave Denver a boost before the half against Tennessee.

  • Gunnstigator Dec 8, 7:02 p.m.

    "The Carolina offense isn't nearly as formidable save for the dynamic Newton, who has thrown 19... View More

    — Posted by PanthersFan45

    64 yards???? Man, I'm sorry I missed that one! I watched part of the Eagles/Lions "Snow Bowl". Don't know how some of those guys play in short sleeves. But you're right - 64 yards is def a "play of the day" and should make it to ESPN's top plays as well as FNIA's top plays.

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