NEW ORLEANS On a night when the Saints crowd was attempting to set a world record for indoor noise, the Carolina Panthers entered Sunday night hoping to neutralize that with some early scores.
But the Panthers, who came to the Superdome as the fourth-most efficient team inside the opponents 20-yard line, went to the red zone twice during the first quarter and came back with just field goals.
One of the best ways to eliminate crowd noise is to score early and often on the home team but not with field goals. A time-consuming first quarter for the Panthers gave them six points, which quickly was overtaken by a second-quarter touchdown by New Orleans. The Saints would run away with a 31-13 win.
After an opening drive that saw Carolina convert three third downs, the Panthers failed to convert a fourth time when they had the ball at the New Orleans 20. Cam Newton was sacked for a loss of 7 that brought out Graham Gano for his first field goal after a 6-minute, 18-second drive.
Carolina would get another crack in the red zone during the quarter when the Panthers got the ball on the New Orleans 33 after a 32-yard Ted Ginn Jr. punt return and subsequent penalty.
But the drive stalled at the 6, and Gano came back to make the score 6-0 in favor of Carolina.
The Panthers had an 86.8 scoring percentage in the red zone, the fourth best in the league behind Denver, Dallas and Cincinnati after Week 13. Of their 38 possessions, 24 resulted in touchdowns and nine were field goals.
But the long drives kept Drew Brees and the Saints off the field for most of the first quarter. The Panthers were No.1 in the NFL in time of possession coming in, averaging more than 33 minutes per game. The Saints were No.2.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera had stressed the importance of a fast start. Carolina played the Vikings inside a dome during Week 6, and effectively took the crowd out of it early with an early 7-0 lead and eventually a 35-10 win.
Stewart injured : Jonathan Stewart gave the Panthers a glimmer of hope in the third quarter with consecutive 16-yard gains, but then his night was cut short.
The running back left the game early in the third quarter with a serious right knee injury when Keenan Lewis landed a legal hit to Stewarts lower body on a 16-yard pass. Stewart will have an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of the injury.
Stewart jogged gingerly to the sideline where he was examined by trainers. He went to the locker room and came back with his right leg wrapped.
Get loud: The Saints had a representative from Guinness World Records in attendance as the Saints sought to break the record for loudest crowd roar at an indoor sports arena.
The record has stood for only a few weeks, since Sacramento Kings fans pushed the dBA (decibels adjusted) level to 126 during a game against the Detroit Pistons at Sleep Train Arena on Nov.15.
Panthers inactives : There were no real surprises on the Panthers inactive list. Second-year defensive end Frank Alexander was bumped to make room for Charles Johnson, who missed the past two games with a sprained knee.
Special teams mainstay Jordan Senn also was among the inactives. Senn pulled his hamstring last week against Tampa Bay and was listed as doubtful.
Second-year cornerback Josh Norman was inactive after playing special teams last week against the Bucs. The rest of the Panthers inactives were running back Kenjon Barner, injured guard Chris Scott and wide receivers Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt.
• The Panthers wore their white jersey on white pants combination as the Saints wore black jerseys with black pants, their usual home primetime uniform.
• Former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme was in attendance for the game. Despite living in Louisiana, he only goes to the Superdome once a year for a game whenever the Panthers are in town.
• The referees picked up yet another flag for pass interference on the Panthers, and this time it didnt involve Luke Kuechly. Brandon LaFell was tangled up with a Saint on the first drive of the game but the officials decided it was away from the ball.
• Newton made a poor decision when he did not step up in the pocket late in the second quarter but instead sidestepped. He ran into Cam Jordan, who beat right tackle Byron Bell badly on the play, and Jordan sacked Newton on third down near the Panthers end zone.
• New Orleans coach Sean Payton curiously did not accept a holding penalty early in the third quarter. The Saints would have had a first-and-5, but Payton elected to stay at second-and-3. The Saints eventually would punt two plays later.
By the numbers
0 Combined turnovers between the teams.
10 Fourth-down conversions for Carolina on 12 tries this year.
2 Games this year in which the Carolina defense has give up more points than the Saints scored in the second quarter (21).
8 Consecutive seasons of at least 4,000 passing yards for Brees, who hit the mark in the third quarter.
• Im surprised and Im disappointed. Not good enough. Panthers coach Ron Rivera
• We played a great team today, a playoff calibre team, and its a
great measuring stick of who we are and where we want to go. Cam Newton
• Field goals arent going to cut it. We know that as an offense. Newton
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