NFL Nation: 2013 Week 14 CAR at NO

Drew BreesAP Photo/Bill HaberDrew Brees passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns against the Panthers.

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints' preferred cure for a hangover? Playing at night inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Saints (10-3) followed up their worst loss of the season at Seattle with arguably their most impressive win six nights later -- a 31-13 rout over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night.

In the big picture, this performance didn't silence all of the Saints' doubters.

They didn't answer all of the questions about whether or not they can be the same team on the road that they are at home -- the questions that will certainly come up again if they wind up back in Seattle for the NFC title game.

But all the Saints could control this week was how they responded in this one game. And the answer was loud and clear.

“To go out and play the way we did today, we got our confidence back and kind of got our swagger back. And that's Saints football, what you saw out there today,” Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “I don't know what that was last week.”

The Saints are now 7-0 at home this season. They've now won 13 consecutive prime-time games in this building, including the playoffs, by nearly 20 points per game. And every time quarterback Drew Brees walks into this place, he's like Clark Kent walking out of a phone booth.

Brees threw for another 313 yards and four touchdowns Sunday. He has thrown for 43 touchdowns and just four interceptions during that 13-game win streak. And he became the fifth NFL quarterback to throw for 50,000 yards in his career.

“We wanted to bounce back in a big way with a big win,” Brees said. “We were able to do that today.”

Even in the comfort of their home building, this was a pretty remarkable effort by the Saints.

As if it wasn't hard enough to rally on a short week, the Saints had to spend an extra night in Seattle because of a cracked windshield on the team plane, of all things. And players were more willing to admit after Sunday night's victory just how ticked off they were by that delay -- especially on the heels of such a humbling 34-7 loss to the Seahawks on “Monday Night Football.”

“We were all pissed. We were mad. We were angry and deservedly so,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “We got our butts kicked on national TV in front of everybody.”

The Saints didn't get home until nearly 4 p.m. Tuesday, pushing back their first practice of the week until Thursday.

And, oh by the way, they had to get ready to host a Panthers team that was tied with them for the NFC South lead -- a team that led the NFL in scoring defense and came in riding an eight-game winning streak.

“I would say this was one of the most challenging games that we've had to get ready for,” Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said. “But this is a team that's ready for any challenge, and we met that challenge tonight.”

Players credited coach Sean Payton for choosing the right practice schedule -- preferring to maximize their recovery time after the Seattle game.

Payton also took every measure to make sure the Saints' players -- and the fans -- were emotionally “up” for Sunday night's game. His message was clear all week that he considered this a “big game,” rather than just the “next game on the schedule.”

The Saints invited an official from Guinness World Records to chart the crowd noise (though they fell short of the record) and handed out rally towels to every fan in the building.

Payton even announced on Twitter that he left tickets for the hip-hop group the Ying-Yang Twins, who did indeed show up as their 2009 Saints anthem “Halftime (Stand Up and Get Crunk)” played repeatedly throughout the night.

“The concern I had coming into the game was just having the energy you need to play in a divisional game like this with a short week,” Payton said. “I thought the players handled that part of it well, and I thought they had enough energy. And I thought we played with a lot of emotion.”

It was a little touch-and-go for a few minutes. Carolina actually took a 6-0 lead into the second quarter, thanks to two long field goal drives and a three-and-out by the Saints' offense.

But that confidence and emotion never wavered. Two of the biggest series of the game came when the Saints' defense ultimately forced Carolina's offense to settle for field goals on those first two drives (one of which started on New Orleans' 32-yard line because of a long punt return and a penalty).

Outside linebacker Junior Galette (three sacks) and defensive end Cameron Jordan (two sacks) were the most dynamic playmakers, but they weren't alone.

“We took some of their best punches early, but I thought we bounced back,” Jordan said. “We've always been a resilient defense, and we played great in the second half.”

And the biggest offensive play of the night might have been receiver Marques Colston's sensational 21-yard catch on third-and-9 to start the Saints' second offensive series. The floodgates opened after that, with the Saints scoring touchdowns on three straight possessions for a 21-6 halftime lead.

Colston finished with nine catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Jimmy Graham caught Brees' other two TD throws.

“I think the history shows that this team responds after losses. ... When we get beat like that, you know this team's gonna respond,” Graham said. “And one of the biggest attributes tonight was the fans. The dome was amazing. Everyone was just so into it, all four quarters, with the white towels. And the ‘Get Crunk' song was playing. It was truly amazing tonight, and it's awesome to see that on a Sunday night with a division rival. And our city's amazing, our fans are amazing. And when they come out like that, we just respond every time.”

So, back to the narrative that will either glorify the Saints or haunt them over the next month or two -- depending on the location.

“People are still going to say the same things: ‘Well, they're good at home. This and that about the road, or weather, whatever, whatever,'” Harper said. “So, we understand that. We've got to continue to come and answer the bell every time. We know we're going to have a tough road ahead of us. We [are at St. Louis next Sunday], and we have to go and get this one too, or this win means absolutely nothing.”

The Saints can clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC by winning two of their final three games (at St. Louis, at Carolina, vs. Tampa Bay). Even if they lose at Carolina, they would win a tie-breaker if both teams finish 12-4.

The No. 2 seed means a first-round bye and a second-round game at home. And obviously, that would mean a lot.

Saints made Carolina D look average

December, 9, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly perhaps put it best.

"They got us," Kuechly said after Sunday night's 31-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome. "They got us today."

The Saints did to Carolina's second-ranked defense what no other team has done this season, what coach Ron Rivera and his players didn't think possible before this prime time game.

They did what I didn't think possible.

They made the defense look average.

Worse than average.

[+] EnlargeCarolina's Luke Kuechly
AP Photo/Dave MartinRe-signing free-agent tight end Jimmy Graham this offseason is a must for the Saints.
The Saints scored three touchdowns in the second quarter against a unit that had given up only three touchdowns in the previous four games. Quarterback Drew Brees threw four touchdowns against a unit that hadn't allowed more than two touchdowns in any game all season.

New Orleans' 247 yards a halftime were about 42 yards shy of what the Panthers were giving up per game.

What's worse, after being stopped on their first series, the Saints made it look easy.

They got almost no pressure on Brees even though they sacked him twice. Receivers got off the line of scrimmage and were allowed to roam the middle of the field as though they were invisible.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Brees was 22-of-26 against four or fewer pass-rushers, the highest completion percentage the Panthers have allowed in a game in the past six seasons.

The Saints were so effective that Carolina was forced to blitz more than normal, and that created more opportunities for receivers.

"It's frustrating," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "And to know we can go out and play better and not have that happen ... that's very disappointing."

It should be. Even more disappointing, the team that has been so good at making halftime adjustments never effectively did. The Panthers were lucky Marques Colston's knee hit the ground fractions of a second before he got the ball over the goal line for what would have been his third touchdown catch.

About the only bright spot was Carolina kept the Saints from scoring a touchdown on the next three plays.

"We didn't play very well," coach Ron Rivera said. "That was the bottom line."

The problems were across the board, from breakdowns in the secondary to giving Brees too much time to set and throw. He finished with a passer rating of 124.4 against a unit that was allowing an average of 77.4.

"Got to keep this fresh in our minds and use it against the Jets," safety Mike Mitchell said of Carolina's next opponent.

What he meant was correct the errors and take out the frustration players were feeling on the Jets just as the Saints took out their frustrations on the Panthers after a 34-7 loss to Seattle on Monday night.

"I hate losing," defensive end Greg Hardy said. "I'm going to be up tonight trying to figure out what I've got to do to get better."

The defense should lose sleep over this one. The Saints exposed an area that others certainly will attempt to.

As Davis said, "This one was on the defense."
Cam NewtonAP Photo/Bill HaberCam Newton and Carolina were upended in New Orleans, losing for the first time in nine weeks.

NEW ORLEANS -- The Carolina Panthers got a taste of what the New Orleans Saints got at Seattle six days ago.




The Panthers' defense, the second-best in the league, was made to look like the second-worst by quarterback Drew Brees and an offense that scored more points (21) in the second quarter than Carolina had given up in any game during its eight-game winning streak. The Saints defense that gave up 429 yards against the Seahawks completely bottled up Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who had been mentioned in MVP conversations the past few weeks.

The best news for the Panthers in Sunday night's 31-13 shellacking was they played so poorly that the Superdome crowd attempting to break the Guinness world record for noise, set in Seattle six days ago, had little to get rowdy about after halftime and came up short.

At least the Panthers (9-4) didn't have plane troubles for their return flight and won't have to spend another night on the road, which is what happened to New Orleans after its 34-7 Monday night loss in Seattle.

"It stinks," Carolina tackle Jordan Gross said. "It's a good reminder [that] if you don't play well, you get your butt kicked."

It's also, Gross reminded, not the end of the world.

"The sky isn't falling," he said. "We just got used to winning eight weeks in a row. We wanted to win. We prepared well. We just didn't play well."

How Carolina responds next week against the New York Jets after its franchise-record winning streak was brought to a screeching halt will be key. Winning the NFC South is almost out of the question unless Carolina wins out and New Orleans (10-3) losses two of three -- including the rematch in Charlotte in two weeks.

The Panthers also aren't guaranteed a wild-card spot. They have a one-game lead over Arizona (8-5), which owns the tiebreaker against them based on a 22-6 victory before the winning streak began.

"I feel good we can learn from this and get a little revitalized," Gross said. "You win eight in a row and everything is peaches and cream. When you lose, you get reminded of all your little faults, so it might be good for us. We're right in the mix of the playoff picture. The worst thing we can do is mope and hang our heads and let one loss turn into two."

The Saints didn't let that happen, for sure. They took out all of their frustration from the embarrassment in Seattle. They dominated Carolina in just about every phase, particularly on offense.

Brees had four touchdown passes against a defense that had given up only three touchdowns -- period -- in the previous four games, a defense that was allowing a league-low 13.1 points per game.

The future Hall of Fame quarterback looked like he was shooting fish in a barrel against the Carolina secondary, completing 30 of 42 passes for 313 yards. His receivers got off the line so cleanly, they looked uncovered at times, particularly Marques Colston, who had nine catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns.

"We have to put this loss behind us right now. ... The Jets will not feel sorry for us," outside linebacker Thomas Davis said.

The Panthers weren't feeling sorry for themselves, either. While there were long faces after a game for the first time in more than two months, there wasn't a sense of panic.

"We will get over this one very quickly because we still have a lot of football left to play and a lot still left on the line," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said defiantly.

Rivera also was disappointed. He expected a better performance and never dreamed even the Saints would put up 31 points against his defense.

"We're a better football team than we showed," he said.

The Panthers showed little on this night. After settling for field goals on their first two drives for a 6-0 lead when they could have made a statement with touchdowns, they did little right. Whether it was a lack of execution, as players and coaches blamed, or simply superior execution by the Saints can be debated. But there is no debating that this was a good old-fashioned whipping.

And because of it, the Panthers are again under the pressure of having to win.

"We've kind of been in that position since we started in that 1-3 hole," Gross said. "We've been in must-win [mode] to get in the playoff picture. Nothing has changed as far as that goes.

"We might have a better sense of urgency now than had we won. I'd rather get our butt kicked this week than four weeks from now. It's frustrating. Now the ball is out of our courts as far as the division goes, but we've got a good team. Still no need to panic."

That was the message throughout the locker room. Newton called it a "great measuring stick for who we are and where we have to go."

And the Panthers will get to measure themselves again against New Orleans in two weeks.

"I felt those guys were better than us today," Newton said. "Are they better than us? No."

Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

December, 8, 2013

NEW ORLEANS -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints31-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

What it means: This win was about as big as it could get for the Saints. At 10-3, they’re now in great position to win the NFC South and secure the conference's No. 2 seed. Just as important, they quickly got their mojo back after a humbling loss at Seattle six nights ago. Not that there was any concern that the Saints lacked confidence. But to come out and give such a dynamic performance on both sides of the ball on a short week spoke a lot about the Saints’ ability to respond to adversity.

The Saints will play at Carolina (9-4) again in two weeks. Even if they split the series, the Saints would win the tiebreaker if both teams finish 12-4. The Saints need to win any two of their final three games to clinch the NFC South (at St. Louis, at Carolina, vs. Tampa Bay).

Brees hits 50,000: Saints quarterback Drew Brees became the fifth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 50,000 yards in his career -- joining Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and John Elway. He also set an NFL record with his eighth consecutive 4,000-yard season. And he reached both thresholds with an exclamation point -- completing 30 of 42 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns against the Panthers.

The Saints have won 13 consecutive night games inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, including the playoffs. In those games, Brees has thrown for 43 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Stock watch: Nobody was more clutch for the Saints than Marques Colston. He had a monster night, with nine catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns. But his biggest catch was his first one -- a terrific, reaching grab for 21 yards on third-and-9 in the first quarter. The Saints were in danger of going three-and-out on their first two drives before Colston made that catch. From that point on, they took off.

Colston has had one of his quietest seasons this year, with only 596 yards and two touchdowns coming into the night. But he proved again that he’s available as a go-to guy for Brees when needed.

Racking up sacks: Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette had three sacks, and end Cameron Jordan had two. Jordan, who seems like a shoo-in for his first Pro Bowl, now has 11.5 sacks this season.

What’s next: The Rams (5-8), the Saints' next opponent, have lost two straight games, including 30-10 at Arizona on Sunday. But they've had some impressive wins in an up-and-down season. So the Saints can’t fall asleep at the wheel -- especially on the road, where they've been inconsistent this season.

Rapid Reaction: Carolina Panthers

December, 8, 2013

NEW ORLEANS -- A few thoughts on the Carolina Panthers' 31-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints:

What it means: That the winning streak ends at eight. That the Panthers (9-4) got a taste of what New Orleans got from the Seahawks six days ago on "Monday Night Football." Nobody should be surprised. The Saints (10-3) have been doing this to almost every team in the Superdome this season. The key for Carolina will be to bounce back next week the way New Orleans did after its 34-7 loss to Seattle. The Panthers likely need to win at least two of their three final games to get into the playoffs as a wild card. Arizona is lurking at 8-5, and the Cardinals own the tiebreaker based on a 22-6 victory over the Panthers on Oct. 6. Winning the NFC South is almost out of the question now. It would take New Orleans losing two of its final three -- including in Charlotte on Dec. 22 -- and Carolina winning out.

Stock watch: The defense that was ranked No. 2 in the league, No. 1 in scoring with 13.1 points allowed per game, was made to look very average by Saints quarterback Drew Brees & Co. The Saints had 21 points at halftime -- more than any other team scored against Carolina during the eight-game winning streak. Wide receiver Marques Colston looked uncovered much of the game, particularly over the middle, where he caught a couple of touchdowns. The front four got little pressure on Brees, who completed 30 of 42 pass attempts for 313 yards and four touchdowns. The Panthers hadn't given up but three touchdowns period in the past four games and hadn't given up more than two in a game all season. They were allowing only 289.8 yards total per game.

Stock watch II: Cam Newton really wasn't a factor, which is something you haven't read for eight straight games. The Saints kept him bottled up, sacking him five times and holding him completely in check until a late-game touchdown pass. He got back into his habit of holding the ball way too long, which led to a few of the sacks.

Missed opportunities: The Panthers had two opportunities in the red zone in the first quarter and got only two field goals out of it. On the second they had first-and-goal from the 10 with a 3-0 lead and a chance to make a statement. When they didn't, New Orleans did.

No good: The Panthers were so out of sync that place-kicker Graham Gano, who had missed only two field goals all season, missed a 49-yarder in the third quarter that he normally makes with his eyes closed in ideal conditions like this.

What's next? The Panthers return home to face the New York Jets. It will be the first time the teams have met since 2009, when the Jets won 17-6 at home. The Jets lead the series 3-2.