NEW ORLEANS (WAFB) - Having been out of the playoffs since the 2013 season, the Saints advance to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs after a 31-26 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
It has been six years since the Saints hosted a playoff game at home, and they did not disappoint the fans. The energy in the Superdome was high from the start as former Saints' running back Reggie Bush led the team out to the field wearing the late Will Smith's jersey.
A few guys from the 09' team also returned to the Dome for today's game. Players included Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Jeremy Shockey, Garrett Hartley, Devery Henderson, and Tracey Porter.
It was a slow start but all it took was one big play. Former Panther, Ted Ginn, Jr. went on a post route after Drew Brees found him with a perfectly thrown pass for an 80-yard touchdown, putting the Saints on the board first.
Brees didn't stop there as he connected with Josh Hill for a 9-yard touchdown pass, giving the Saints a 14-3 lead over the Panthers.
Before the end of the first half, Zach Line finished the scoring for the Saints with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Brees finished with 376 yards passing in the wild card weekend game.
The Saints defense was the difference in the game, forcing the Panthers to settle for only field goal attempts for the first three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, Carolina's QB Cam Newton got hurt on a sack by Micahel Hoomanawanui and backup QB Derek Anderson stepped in.
The Saints made their way back up the field with a 52-yard touchdown drive that included a 46-yard pass from Brees to Michael Thomas and a two-yard touchdown run by Alvin Kamara for a 12 point lead.
Newton returned to the game after being evaluated for a concussion. With four minutes left, Newton hit Clayton McCaffrey with a long pass resulting in a 56-yard touchdown. The Panthers had a chance to win the game with eleven seconds to play and the ball on the Saints' 34-yard line. The Saints' Von Bell got a sack on the play to win the game.
The Saints will be heading to Minnesota next Sunday to take on the Vikings for a trip to the NFC Championship.