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Panthers top Saints 33-31 on Kasay last-second FG

By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – John Kasay’s 42-yard field goal with a second left lifted Carolina to a 33-31 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, locking up the NFC South title and the second seed in the conference for the Panthers.

Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams rushed for 178 yards to set the franchise single-season record. His 1,515 yards eclipse Stephen Davis’ 1,444 in 2003.

Drew Brees, meanwhile, came up just short in his bid to top Dan Marino’s 1984 single-season NFL record of 5,084 yards passing. Brees needed 402 yards to set the mark. He finished with 386, which made him only the second player to pass for more than 5,000 yards.

Carolina (12-4), the only team to go 8-0 at home this season, will get a first-round playoff bye and then a chance to extend its perfect record in Charlotte in the divisional round.

Jake Delhomme was an efficient 14-of-20 for 250 yards, including his 8-yard scoring pass to Muhsin Muhammad.

John Kasay hit four of five field-goal attempts. He connected from 45, 26 and 34 yards in the first half, but needed the winner to redeem his miss from 41 yards in the third quarter. The miss allowed the Saints (8-8) to turn a 30-10 deficit into a brief 31-30 lead after Brees’ 13-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore with 3:11 left.

Delhomme responded with a 39-yard pass to Steve Smith, who made a difficult grab in double coverage at the Saints 43.

Delhomme then had another clutch first-down completion to Muhammad, and the Panthers were able to run down the clock and set up for Kasay’s winning kick. Initially, it was a 37-yard attempt, but a false start moved it back 5 yards. Still, Kasay nailed it.

Because Kasay’s squib kick rolled out of bounds, Brees had one more play to break Marino’s record and possibly lead the Saints to an improbable win, but his pass dropped incomplete.

Carolina, which had the ball for 19:53 of the first half, didn’t allow Brees his first completion until late in the first quarter. Brees still threw for 137 yards passing by halftime. His 5,068 yards put him second on the single-season passing list, ahead of Kurt Warner’s 4,830 with the St. Louis Rams in 2001.

But while the Saints could boast the NFL’s most productive offense and passing game, they could not manage a winning record or a playoff berth for a second straight season, plagued both by injuries and untimely lapses on defense throughout the season, the last being Smith’s big reception on Carolina’s winning drive.

Carolina had 478 total yards in becoming the first and only NFC South team to win a division game on the road this season. Smith, a longtime Saints nemesis, had five catches for 134 yards.

With Pierre Thomas inactive with a sore wrist and back, Deuce McAllister started in what may have been his final game for New Orleans. With the crowd howling his first name, McAllister had 81 total yards, including a 20-yard reception for his longest gain of the season. If he leaves in the offseason, he’ll do so as the Saints’ leader in yards rushing (6,096) and touchdowns (55).

Carolina built a 23-3 lead late in the second quarter when Landon Johnson stripped the Saints’ Skyler Green on a kickoff return. Dante Wesley scooped up the fumble and ran it back 12 yards for a touchdown.

Brees passed for 90 yards on the Saints’ next possession, including his 26-yard scoring pass to Marques Colston to make it 23-10 at halftime.

Carolina went ahead 30-10 on Jonathan Stewart’s 2-yard run early in the third quarter before Brees ignited New Orleans’ comeback with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem.

Brees was 30-of-49 with four touchdown passes and one interception.

After his 9-yard scoring pass to Moore on fourth-and-short pulled the Saints to 30-24 with 5:33 left, the Saints quickly forced a punt. At that point, Brees needed just over 60 yards to break Marino’s record, but Jason Baker shanked his punt for 21 yards to the Carolina 45. Brees completed three straight passes to give the Saints the lead, but would not get another chance until his incompletion on the final play of the game.

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