NEW ORLEANS — Smiling through a split lip, courtesy of a punch to the face, quarterback Drew Brees had just etched another notch in his NFL gunslinger’s belt — a league-record 15th career 400-yard passing game in Sunday’s 41-38 video game shootout over the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.But despite all of Brees’ incredible, four-touchdown fireworks, the outcome came down to a nondescript rookie kicker.Free agent kicker Wil Lutz, picked up from the Baltimore Ravens’ waiver wire just before the season opener, nailed a 52-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to hand the Saints (2-3) their second straight win and send Carolina, a 15-1 Super Bowl team a year ago, spiraling to an alarming 1-5 start.”He’s got moxie — all the things you look for in good kickers,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of Lutz, whose kick split the upright and would have been good from at least 57. “He’s got all the traits you’re looking for, aside from leg strength. He’s got mental toughness. He hit that last kick good.”As soon as he kicked the ball and tracked its flight, Lutz shot both arms straight into the air to signal it was good. Lutz earlier in the game had missed a 53-yarder, coming up far short and to the right.”You have to have a short memory,” Lutz said. “You forget about it and go after the next one. (The game-winner) felt smooth. I made it, and that’s all that matters. The first thing I did was celebrate with (holder) Thomas (Morstead) and (long-snapper) Justin (Drescher).”Lutz’s kick was the exclamation point on another virtuoso performance by Brees, who completed 34-of-49 for 465 yards and four touchdown passes to receiver Brandin Cooks (87 yards), tight end Coby Fleener (50), receiver Michael Thomas (9) and tight end Josh Hill (8).Brees jumped on Carolina’s inexperienced secondary, completing passes to 10 different receivers. His day would have been even better except for two drops. The Saints also converted 8-of-16 third downs on their way to 523 yards in total offense.The Saints jumped out to a 21-0 lead 16 minutes into the game, but Carolina battled back with 21 fourth-quarter points to tie the game at 38 with 2:58 left. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who sat out last week’s loss to Tampa Bay due to the NFL’s concussion protocol, got the tying touchdown with a 2-yard sweep around right end and a two-point conversion, a quick out to receiver Devin Funchess.But even though Newtown went 27-of-47 for 322 yards and two scores, he left too much time on the clock for Brees.After a touchback, the Saints started at their 25, and on first down, Brees was trapped for a 5-yard sack, the Panthers’ only sack of the game.But on third-and-9, Brees moved the chains with a swing pass to running back Travaris Cadet, and he slowly pushed the ball downfield. Brees completed seven consecutive passes on the game-winning drive, and perhaps his most critical pass came on third-and-7 from the Carolina 40, when he connected with Cook for 6 yards to the 34.That allowed Payton to send in Lutz for the game-winning field goal attempt. Payton said the plan was not to get too aggressive at that time for fear of giving up a sack and pushing the Saints out of field goal range.”We knew we were going to get some max pressure, and we couldn’t take a sack,” Payton said.It was the 40th time in his career Brees has led a fourth-quarter, game-winning drive.”That was the plan — always that balance of using the clock and putting yourself in position to win the game,” Brees said. “We were really good on third down and made some big plays in the passing game and had 10 different receivers touch the ball. It’s just good execution and guys making plays.”Brees’ first two touchdown passes took advantage of the Panthers’ young secondary. Cornerback Zack Sanchez bit on a double move, giving Cooks an open pasture on his 87-yard score. Then, on Thomas’ 9-yard crossing route, cornerback Daryl Worley fell down.”I’m a little concerned about some of the things that happened on the defensive side,” Carolinacoach Ron Rivera said. “They did exploit our young guys out there. You’re talking about a future Hall of Famer (Brees) in terms of a quarterback and you’re talking about a very good game-planner in Coach Payton.”Newton did not show any ill effects of the concussion he suffered in Week 4 against Atlanta. Although he did not run at all in the first half — only the third time that has happened in his career — he did run for the tying touchdown late in the game and took several more hits.”Cam was not limited at all in his mobility,” Rivera said. “I thought he made some really good decisions. We scored 38 points. When you score 38 points, you need to give yourself more of a chance to win.”NOTES: QB Drew Brees surpassed Peyton Manning for the most 400-yard passing games (15) in an NFL career. … Saints LT Andrus Peat and CB Sterling Moore left with lower right leg injuries and did not return. … Carolina, which has a bye week coming up, lost CB Daryl Worley to a possible concussion. … Carolina beat New Orleans 41-38, the exact score as yesterday, in the 2015 season finale. … Carolina started the game 1-of-9 on third downs and ended up 3-of-11.
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