NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns, and the New Orleans Saints held off Carolina’s late comeback bid to seal a 31-26 victory in their NFC wild-card game.
The Panthers had a first down on the Saints 26-yard line with 58 seconds left, but heavy pressure by All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan a couple of plays later induced an intentional grounding penalty on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, making it third-and-25 on the Saints 34 and a required 10-second runoff left 22 seconds on the clock.
After an incompletion in the end zone on third down, Vonn Bell sacked Newton on a safety blitz, ensuring the Saints (12-5) swept all three meetings with Carolina (11-6) this season, in addition to winning their first playoff game in four seasons.
A 14-yard touchdown pass from Carolina quarterback Cam Newton to tight end Greg Olsen has cut the Saints’ lead to 24-19 early in the fourth quarter.
It was the first Panthers TD of the game on their fifth trip inside the Saints 22-yard line.
The other four drives deep into Saints territory ended with field-goal attempts, one of which missed.
The Saints led 21-6 in the final minute of the first half, but the Panthers have since rallied to pull within less than a touchdown with more than 12 minutes to go.
Wil Lutz’s 57-yard field goal has given New Orleans a 24-12 lead in its NFC wild-card game against Carolina.
The Saints were threatening for more when the Panthers’ pass rush forced Saints quarterback Drew Brees to throw the ball away on third-and-5 from the Carolina 22.
Brees was called for intentional grounding, resulting in a 17-yard loss to the Carolina 39.
But Saints coach Sean Payton made the aggressive decision to try the field goal when a miss would have given the Panthers the ball near midfield with 6:05 to go in the third quarter.
Graham Gano’s 29-yard field goal has trimmed New Orleans’ lead over the Panthers to 21-12 early in the third quarter.
However, the possession also marked the fourth time in the game Carolina drove as far as the Saints 21-yard line, only to settle for a field goal attempt.
The Panthers do not have a touchdown in the game, despite gaining 254 yards.
The New Orleans Saints’ ability to convert in the red zone has given them a 21-9 halftime lead over the Carolina Panthers in their NFC wild-card matchup.
But the Panthers, who’ll receive the kickoff to open the second half, took some momentum into the locker room after Graham Gano narrowly made a 58-yard field-goal attempt as time expired in the second quarter.
Brees went 13 of 18 for 230 yards and two touchdowns in the half, including an 80-yard pass to Ted Ginn for the first points of the game late in the first quarter.
Brees’ other scoring pass went to tight end Josh Hill from 9 yards.
Fullback Zach Line scored on a 1-yard run in the final minute of the half, but Carolina QB Cam Newton was able to drive the Panthers to the New Orleans 40 in about 40 seconds, setting up Gano’s long field goal, which grazed the left upright.
Newton drove the Panthers inside the Saints 25 three times, but Gano pushed his first attempt wide from only 25 yards. It was an unusual miss for Gano, who went 29 of 30 during the regular season with his only miss from beyond 50 yards.
He made his next three attempts, including from 27 and 39 yards.
The Saints were unable to convert both of their third downs in the half, but had first down gains on eight straight second down plays, including four times from 10 yards.
Graham Gano’s 39-yard field goal has cut the Saints’ lead over the Panthers to 14-6 late in the second quarter of their NFC wild-card game.
Gano’s kick capped a 12-play 54-yard drive that included quarterback Cam Newton’s fourth-and-1 conversion on a keeper near midfield. The Panthers also converted on third-and-8 with a pass over the middle to Brenton Bersin before the drive stalled on the New Orleans 21-yard line.
The Panthers have been moving the ball, but struggling in the red zone, settling three times for Gano field goal attempts, the first of which sailed wide.
Drew Brees’ 9-yard pass to wide open tight end Josh Hill has given the New Orleans Saints a 14-3 lead in the second quarter of their NFC wild-card game against the Carolina Panthers.
Brees completed all seven of his passes on the 75-yard drive, highlighted by a 19-yard completion to Michael Thomas, who also made a sudden move after a catch along the left sideline for a 13-yard gain to set up the score.
Brees is 9 of 12 for 163 yards and two touchdowns, nearly half of that coming on an 80-yard scoring pass to Ted Ginn on the previous drive.
The Saints appear to have lost starting left guard Andrus Peat to a lower left leg injury.
Peat went down while blocking on a short run by Alvin Kamara with 12:38 left in the second quarter.
Saints medical staff brought out a cart to take Peat off of the field as teammates gathered around him to show their support.
The 6-foot-7, 316-pound Peat was the Saints’ first-round draft pick in 2015 out of Stanford, where he played left tackle. He has played both at guard and tackle as needed during his three-year NFL career.
Graham Gano’s 27-yard field goal has given the Carolina Panthers their first points of their NFC wild-card game in New Orleans.
The kick, which trimmed the Saints’ lead to 7-3 early in the second quarter, came after Carolina quarterback Cam Newton overthrew Greg Olsen near the right sideline on third down.
The Panthers got within striking distance thanks to Ken Crawley’s 39-yard pass interference penalty on Kaelin Clay, giving Carolina a first down on the Saints 13-yard line.
New Orleans’ defense held from there, however.
Two plays after Graham Gano surprisingly missed a 25-yard field-goal attempt for only his second miss this season, the Saints used a big play to take a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter of New Orleans’ playoff matchup with Carolina.
Drew Brees found former Panther Ted Ginn deep down the middle for an 80-yard touchdown. Ginn had gotten behind cornerback James Bradberry and Brees unloaded the ball moments before the pocket collapsed behind him.
Once the speedy Ginn had the ball in his hands, he was able to sprint away from Bradberry.
That Ginn touchdown was the longest play from scrimmage by New Orleans this season as well as the longest play from scrimmage allowed by Carolina this season.
It was also the longest Saints touchdown in the playoffs since the 2009 divisional round when Reggie Bush had an 83-yard punt return.
It was a tough turn of events for Carolina, which had converted three third downs and nearly capped a 63-yard drive with a touchdown before Gano’s missed kick.
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