NEW ORLEANS (WAFB) - The Saints started hot but the Panthers later gained momentum in a tough-fought matchup between the top two teams in the NFC South that went down to the final ticks of the clock.
The Saints (8-2) pulled out the 34-31 win over the Panthers (5-5) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on a 33-yard Wil Lutz field goal as time expired.
Drew Brees was 30-of-39 for 311 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw an interception. Wide receiver Michael Thomas caught 10 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. He reached 100 catches for the season, becoming the first Saints player to have three straight seasons with 100 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards. Tight end Jared Cook had six catches for 99 yards. Running back Latavius Murray had seven carries for 64 yards and a touchdown. Fellow running back Alvin Kamara toted the rock 11 times for 54 yards. He also caught nine passes for 48 yards.
The Saints received the opening kick and looked impressive. Brees led a seven-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off with an explosive 26-yard touchdown run by Latavius Murray to give New Orleans the 7-0 early lead. The other big play of the drive was a 30-yard toss to Ted Ginn Jr. Brees was 4-of-4 for 41 yards on the drive. Later in the quarter, the Panthers muffed a punt and the Saints recovered at the 27-yard line. Brees was able to connect with Tre’Quan Smith for a 13-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 14-0.
Carolina got on the board on a 51-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Allen to DJ Moore. Kicker Joey Slye missed the extra point attempt to make it 14-6 wih 3:16 left in the first. Early in the second quarter, the Saints used a 41-yard Wil Lutz field goal to put them up 17-6. The Panthers responded with a 41-yard field goal of their own to make it 17-9. Then, right before the end of the half, Allen tossed a 1-yard touchdown to Christian McCaffrey. The two-point try failed to make it 17-15 at halftime.
The Saints added to their lead in the third on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Cook to make it 24-15 with 11:18 to go in the quarter. The Panthers closed the gap a little with a 52-yard field goal that made it 24-18. New Orleans was able to respond with a six-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a three-yard pitch and catch between Brees and Thomas to put the Saints up 31-18. Carolina responded with a seven-play, 71-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by McCaffrey. However, Slye missed another extra point to make it 31-24 with just under 1:30 to go in the quarter.
In the fourth, Brees tried to go deep to Smith in the middle of the field but it was picked off by Tre Boston. It proved to be a costly mistake, as the Panthers 50 yards in six plays and Allen found Moore in the end zone from two yards out to tie it at 31-31 with 9:23 left. On their next possession, the Saints went for it on fourth-and-one from their own 45-yard line and failed to convert. On third-and-three from the 5-yard line, New Orleans was called for pass interference and Carolina got the ball at the 3-yard line with a fresh set of downs. The defense stepped up big and a sack on third down moved the Panthers back to the 10-yard line. Slye missed a 28-yard field goal try and the Saints got the ball back with 2:00 left. Brees worked his magic and Lutz did the rest to get the win.