Honestly, I was concerned about this one. I’m usually overly optimistic when it comes to the Saints, but after seeing the team diligently dissected by the Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson, I had a hard time picturing Drew Brees and his troops having much success against the Panthers. The Panthers had won eight in a row and, statistically, their defense was more stout than Seattle’s. Cam Newton has always been a thorn in the Saints’ side. It didn’t think it all added up well.
Boy was I wrong.
The Panthers dominated the first quarter, but only had six points to show for it after two Graham Gano field goals. But then the Saints’ offense founds its rhythm and didn’t look back. Drew Brees threw for three second quarter touchdowns, one in the third and another in the fourth. 31-13 just like that. Ball game.
The Panthers’ defense had not allowed more than two touchdowns in a game this season and no team had scored more than 24 points against the league’s top-rated scoring defense.
“The game started out well, but again, you get down in the red zone, you have to score touchdowns,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after the game. “You can’t beat a good football team, especially a team that is as explosive as these guys are and expect to win with field goals. You have got to give them credit.”
Yes, credit where it’s due.
The Saints are unflappable at home and, for a long time, virtually unbeatable. Now 10-3, the Saints have won 13 straight home prime time games. The offense cruised and the 6th-ranked defense stifled Newton and the Panthers’ offense.
“We had the division championship riding in the balance,” Brees said. “We have three more weeks to go and we’ll see these guys again at their place in a couple of weeks. We wanted to bounce back in a big way with a big win. We were able to do that today.”
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was held to 160 yards passing and was sacked five times.
“Those guys were just better than us today,” Newton said. “Are they better than us? No. But today it showed.”
Brees threw for 313 yards, which moved him past 50,000 for his career. Only four other quarterbacks have ever done that, none faster than Brees. Peyton Manning eclipsed 50,000 yards in 191 games. Brees did it in 183. The top five on this list are Brett Favre, Manning, Dan Marino, John Elway and Brees. Impressive company, but Brees didn’t spend much time celebrating.
“We high fived and hugged a little bit in the locker room,” Brees said. “That’s the extent of it.”
Tight end Jimmy Graham was more willing to brag about his quarterback’s achievement.
“Fifty thousand is pretty unbelievable. I’m very lucky to have a quarterback like that. He’s taught me everything that I know. He trusts me in situations that most quarterbacks wouldn’t. He’s just a special guy. I call him the surgeon. He knows who is open. He knows where to go with the ball. It’s just an amazing feat.”
With the win, the Saints are in the driver’s seat in the NFC South and are well positioned for a first round bye. Even if they lose to Carolina in a couple of weeks, the Saints can still win the South by beating the Rams and Buccaneers.