In a game with first place on the line in what has been an ugly NFC South, the Carolina Panthers were the ugliest team on the field.
In a landslide.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton misfired on passes all night during one of the worst games of his career Thursday and New Orleans shook off a slow start to paste the Panthers 28-10 before a sold-out Bank of America Stadium crowd that cleared out with five minutes remaining.
The Panthers (3-5-1) ran their winless streak to four games and fell out of first place in the anemic NFC South for the first time this season.
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The Saints (4-4) broke a seven-game road losing streak and got to the .500 mark for the first time this season.
Playing behind an offensive line missing three starters due to injury, Newton completed 10 of 28 passes for 151 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception.
Newton’s 35.7 completion percentage and 39.4 passer rating were the worst of his career. Newton lost two turnovers and was sacked four times.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 24 of 34 passes for 297 yards and a touchdown, with one interception. New Orleans running back Mark Ingram rushed 30 times for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
The Saints led 14-0 after an ugly first half that included four turnovers – two for each quarterback – and seven punts.
The Panthers came up with takeaways on New Orleans’ first two drives, but could not turn either into points as Carolina stalled shortly after moving into Saints’ territory.
Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards intercepted a Brees pass that cornerback Antoine Cason knocked into the air. Edwards returned the pick 15 yards to the Panthers’ 27.
On the Saints’ next possession, Brees fumbled when defensive end Charles Johnson knocked fullback Erik Lorig into him. Defensive end Mario Addison recovered at the Carolina 47.
The Panthers’ drives after the takeaways fizzled just inside the Saints’ 40. In each case, Rivera opted to punt rather than have Graham Gano try a long field goal.
But the punts were preferable to the Newton turnovers that came later in the half. Neither of the first-half turnovers was Newton’s fault.
He fired a second-down pass that went through the hands of receiver Brenton Bersin and caromed to cornerback Corey White.
The Panthers survived that giveaway when their defense forced a quick punt on the ensuing possession.
But the defense couldn’t hold off the Saints after Newton was sacked and fumbled at the Panthers’ 4-yard line with 3:20 left in the first half.
Saints linebacker Junior Galette beat rookie guard Andrew Norwell and chopped at Newton’s throwing arm, forcing him to fumble. Linebacker Curtis Lofton recovered, and two plays later Mark Ingram went in for a 3-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
New Orleans went 80 yards running its two-minute offense for its second score. The big play was a pass interference penalty on Cason, who made contact with wideout Robert Meachem in the end zone.
The 32-yard penalty moved the Saints to the Panthers’ 1, where Brees hit tight end Jimmy Graham with three seconds remaining in the half.
The Saints doubled up Carolina in the first half in yards (193 to 89) and first downs (14 to 7).
The Panthers got the ball to start the second half and finally started moving.
Running back DeAngelo Williams, in his first action in five weeks, caught a Newton screen pass on the first play of the second half and ran 30 yards to midfield. It was the longest gain of the night for the Panthers, who had only 34 net passing yards in the first half.
After rookie Kelvin Benjamin dropped a pass in the end zone for the second game in a row, Newton scrambled around the left end and dived for the goal line for a 10-yard touchdown run that pulled the Panthers to 14-7.
But Brees responded on the next drive, taking the Saints 80 yards in 14 plays before he finished it with a 1-yard touchdown run. Brees jumped and extended the ball across the goal line, giving the Saints a 14-point lead again.
Newton finally connected on a deep throw on the ensuing drive, lasering a 47-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery that set up a Gano field goal.
Fan booed when the Panthers settled for a field goal after driving to the 6. Then many headed for home.