NEW ORLEANS Advantage, New Orleans.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees bounced back from a rough outing last week to carve up the Carolina Panthers secondary Sunday, passing for 313 yards and four touchdowns in the Saints 31-13 win before a raucous crowd of 73,000-plus at the Superdome.
The loss snapped a franchise-record, eight-game win streak for the Panthers (9-4), who dropped a game behind New Orleans (10-3) in the race for first place in the NFC South. The teams meet again in Charlotte on Dec. 22.
The Panthers last loss had been a 22-6 defeat at Arizona on Oct. 6. Carolina fell a game short of matching Kansas Citys nine-game streak for the longest this season.
Were 9-4. The sky isnt falling. Wed just gotten used to winning, eight weeks in a row now, Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross said. We wanted to win. We prepared well. We just didnt play well. But we know weve got them at home in two weeks. That being said, we cant look past the Jets (next week) because theyre going to be tough.
Brees struggled in a 34-7 loss last week at Seattle, which held Brees below 200 yards for the first time in 44 games.
But the Panthers allowed Brees to get in a rhythm, failing to get any pressure on him during a second quarter when Brees threw three touchdowns to take control of the game.
Brees completed 30 of 42 passes and became the fifth quarterback to surpass 50,000 career passing yards, joining Brett Favre, Dan Marino, John Elway and Peyton Manning.
The 31 points were the most allowed by the Panthers second-ranked defense since a 44-38 win at New Orleans in Week 17 last season. But that game came against a Saints defense that gave up more yards than any team in NFL history.
First-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan came after the Panthers from all angles Sunday. The Saints sacked quarterback Cam Newton five times all coming on third down and did not allow the Panthers to get any momentum going with long gains.
Carolina had no plays of 20 yards or more, compared to six for the Saints. New Orleans improved to 7-0 at home, and is 8-1 in Sunday Night Football games.
The Panthers started blitzing more in the second half, and were getting hits on Brees and disrupting his rhythm. But it was too little, too late.
The attitude changed coming in at halftime, figuring what we tried to do earlier didnt work, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. So we tried to do something different, tried to get after them and create some situations.
Garrett Hartleys 19-yard field goal put the Saints up 24-6 in the third quarter, and the only remaining drama was whether the Superdome crowd would break the Guinness record for crowd noise at an indoor sporting event.
A Guinness representative was in attendance as the Saints tried to break the record for loudest crowd roar at an indoor sports arena.
Center Ryan Kalil said the Panthers were aware of the Guinness attempt because they put it up on the (LED) board every two seconds.
The Panthers handled the noise OK, and werent whistled for any false-start penalties.
Their problem offensively was failing to cash in with touchdowns their first two series, settling for field goals after getting into the red zone.
We just didnt finish when we got in the red zone, didnt stop them on defense, Kalil said. We got behind and became one-dimensional. You get behind and start trying to play catch-up, and thats not where were at our best.
After the Saints spotted the Panthers a 6-0 lead, Brees began picking apart Carolinas so-called No-Name Secondary. With the Panthers front four getting little or no pressure on Brees, he continued to find holes in the Panthers zone coverage.
Brees completed 17 of 21 passes for 183 yards in the first half, with no interceptions. Brees was sacked once in the first half by Mario Addison on a play that didnt lose a yard.
The Saints hit Carolina with several big, quick-strike plays, after the Panthers tried to dictate the pace with their running game in the first quarter. The Panthers chewed a lot of the clock on their first two possessions, but had only a 6-0 lead to show for it.
The Panthers second series started at the New Orleans 32 following a 32-yard punt return by Ted Ginn Jr. and a facemask penalty on Saints punter Thomas Morstead. But the drive stalled at the 6 when Newton overthrew tight end Greg Olsen in the corner of the end zone.
Meanwhile, the Panthers did little to disrupt Brees. Defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson combined for no sacks and three tackles.
I feel like I let these guys down, Hardy said. I didnt get to the quarterback today. I didnt have any tackles.
Rivera said the defensive backs allowed the Saints receivers too many clean releases off the line of scrimmage.
Marques Colston caught nine passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns, while tight end Jimmy Graham added six catches for 58 yards and two scores.
Gross, Carolinas second-longest tenured player, said the Panthers can take a lesson from Sundays loss as they begin a three-week push for the teams first playoff berth since 2008.
Some tough love and getting hit in the mouth might not be the worst thing in the world for us now moving forward, Gross said. These games are going to get bigger and bigger, and this is a bit of a reality check for us.
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