NFL: Saints 30, Panthers 27
By Aaron Beard
CHARLOTTE ó Drew Brees kept stepping up in the pocket, spreading the ball among his receivers and moving the New Orleans Saints downfield for the go-ahead score as the time ticked away in the fourth quarter.
The veteran passer gave rookie Cam Newton a lesson in staging comebacks.
Brees found Pierre Thomas wide open on the right side for a 6-yard touchdown with 50 seconds left, helping the Saints rally past the Carolina Panthers 30-27 on Sunday for their fourth straight win.
Brees threw for 359 yards and two touchdowns, including that nearly flawless final drive in which he completed 8 of 9 passes for 80 yards to take back momentum after Newton and the Panthers (1-4) had taken their first lead earlier in the period. Making it even more impressive, the drive lasted more than six minutes and left Carolina with little time to answer.
ěCalm, cool, collected,î Brees said of the Saintsí mentality entering the final drive. ěWeíve been here many times before, which we have. Letís just go be us. Letís do what we do. Nothing spectacular, but just methodical. And hey, if we end up getting a big play that scores one from 50 yards out, great. But weíre ready to march it down and convert some critical third downs and spread the ball around.î
The Panthers reached midfield on their final drive before Newtonís desperation heave downfield fell incomplete on the final play, capping a game that nearly included a brawl in the first quarter after a 54-yard touchdown catch by Carolinaís Steve Smith.
Newton threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead 5-yard scoring pass to Greg Olsen for a 27-23 lead with 12:32 to play. He also scored on a sneak late in the third quarter. But when it was over, Newton and the Panthers had suffered their fourth loss by seven or fewer points.
Afterward, Newton sat motionless for several minutes facing his locker, his head in his hands as he stared down at the floor. Smith sat in the chair to his right, quietly talking with the NFLís top overall draft pick.
ěI mean, youíve got standards,î Newton said. ěAnd when you donít meet that quota on yourself, you just ask yourself why. Thereís a reason we keep losing. And I want to know the reason.î
Mark Ingram also ran for a second-quarter touchdown for the Saints (4-1), while Brees found Jed Collins for a short scoring pass about a minute into the game after Newton tossed an interception on his first throw. But Breesí biggest target was tight end Jimmy Graham, who had eight catches for 129 yards and repeatedly beat undersized defenders to the ball for his third straight 100-yard receiving game.
In addition, Saints kicker John Kasay ó who was on the first Panthers squad in 1995 and stayed with the team until last season ó had three field goals in his return to Charlotte.
Newton seemed poised to deliver an impressive win, starting when he bulled his way through a pile up at the goal line for a 1-yard keeper late in the third.
Then, after Brees threw an interception, Newton came through by zipping a pass to Olsen just inside the goal line for the lead.
Newton even got the ball back with a chance to increase the lead with about 10 minutes left.
But the Panthers managed to burn only three minutes and reach midfield before punting back to the Saints ó and Brees made them pay.
ěWe just found a way to win this game, and thatís pretty important,î Saints coach Sean Payton said. ěYou learn a lot about your team in that type of environment.î