Drew Brees passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns as the New Orleans Saints defeated the Carolina Panthers 31-26 in an NFC Wild Card Playoff game Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
The Saints beat the Panthers for the third time this season to advance to the divisional round. They will face the Vikings in Minnesota next Sunday.
Brees, who completed 23 of 32 passes, threw first-half touchdown passes of 80 yards to Ted Ginn Jr. and 9 yards to Josh Hill.
The Saints went for a fourth-and-2 at the Carolina 47-yard line with two minutes left, but Brees was intercepted by Mike Adams at the Panthers 31.
Cam Newton drove Carolina to a first down at the New Orleans 21, but after an incompletion he was pressured and called for intentional grounding. After an incompletion in the end zone, Vonn Bell sacked Newton with six seconds left.
The Panthers, who settled for three field goals in four attempts in the first half, drove to another field goal on the first possession of the third quarter. Graham Gano’s 29-yarder cut the Saints lead to 21-12.
Carolina stopped New Orleans in scoring range for the first time, but Wil Lutz’s 57-yard field goal gave the Saints a 24-12 lead with 6:05 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers finally reached the end zone on a 14-yard pass from Newton to Greg Olsen, cutting the Saints lead to 24-19 with 12:47 left in the game.
Newton left the game for one play after being shaken up on a sack.
Shortly after, Brees threw a 46-yard completion to Michael Thomas for a first-and-goal at the 5. Two plays later, rookie Alvin Kamara ran 2 yards for a touchdown and a 31-19 lead with 5:08 left.
Carolina came right back as Newton threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Christian McCaffrey to cut the lead to 31-26 with 4:09 left.
Brees’ 16-yard completion to Thomas on third-and-6 gave New Orleans a first down at its 45.
The Panthers got another chance after Adams interception, but once again the Saints‘ defense held.
On the Panthers‘ second possession, they held the ball for 15 plays and drove 63 yards but failed to score when Gano pushed a 25-yard field-goal attempt wide right.
Two plays later, Brees hit former Panther Ginn with the 80-yard touchdown pass that gave New Orleans a 7-0 lead after one quarter.
Gano’s 27-yard field goal cut the lead to 7-3 with 14:12 left in the second quarter, but Brees followed with a his touchdown pass to Hill and a 14-3 lead.
Gano kicked a 39-yard field goal before Zach Line ran 1 yard for a touchdown for the Saints.
Newton moved Carolina 35 yards in 43 seconds and Gano made a 58-yard field goal with no time left to cut New Orleans’ lead to 21-9 at halftime.