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Saints Dominate Panthers, 45-17, in Regular Season Finale

Posted Jan 1, 2012

Saints finish undefeated at home (8-0) for the first time in team history and tie their best overall record at 13-3

QB Drew Brees and the record-setting Saints held nothing back in their season finale, heading into the playoffs in dominant fashion.

Brees passed for 389 yards and five touchdowns, and the New Orleans Saints set a slew of NFL and club records in a 45-17 blowout of the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

The NFL single-season records set by the Saints (13-3), who head into the playoffs on an eight-game winning streak, included offensive yards with 7,474, team yards passing with 5,347 and first downs with 416.

Brees, who was 28 of 35, finished with a record 468 completions this season, breaking Peyton Manning's 2010 mark of 450. He finished the season completing 71.6 percent of his passes, breaking his own 2009 NFL record 70.6 completion percentage.

Jimmy Graham had 97 yards receiving to finish with 1,310, exceeding Kellen Winslow's 1980 record for a tight end. But New England's Rob Gronkowski finished with 1,327 yards, establishing a new mark.

Darren Sproles had 40 yards rushing, 29 yards receiving and 99 yards on kickoff and punt returns to finish with season with an NFL record 2,969 combined yards, easily breaking the previous mark of 2,690, set by Derrick Mason with Tennessee in 2000.

Carolina (6-10), which had won four of five, kept up for much of the first half but wilted over the final two quarters.

Marques Colston caught Brees' first two scoring passes, making a spectacular, spinning catch with arms outstretched on the first one from 15 yards out.

Colston's second touchdown went for 42 yards, and he finished with seven catches for 145 yards. He broke the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth time in his six pro seasons.

Brees also connected with Graham on a 19-yard scoring strike, and added TD passes of 9 yards to Darren Sproles and 1 yard to fullback Jed Collins.

Graham's TD catch was his 11th, matching a club record also reached by Joe Horn in 2004 and Colston in 2007.

Brees surpassed 300 yards passing for the seventh straight game and 13th time this season, both NFL records he already held and simply extended.

The records come one week after Brees passed Dan Marino's 27-yard-old single-season record of 5,084 yards passing.

Brees finished the season with 5,476 yards to go with 46 touchdown passes.

Remarkably, Brees didn't even play most of the fourth quarter for the second time in three games. As was the case in a 42-20 win at Minnesota two weeks earlier, Brees was relieved by Chase Daniel after the Saints had built a commanding lead.

Although San Francisco's lopsided victory means the Saints could not improve their No. 3 seeding in the NFC playoffs, coach Sean Payton had said during the past week that he wanted his team to continue building on the torrid pace it established during its second-half winning streak. He was true to his word, with aggressive play calling that produced a franchise record 617 yards of total offense. It was the 13th 400-yard game for the Saints this season.

With six touchdowns against Carolina, the Saints finished with 66 this season breaking the 2009 record of 64.

Cam Newton closed out an otherwise spectacular rookie season 15 of 25 for 158 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

The Saints had 360 yards of total offense in the first half, when they easily blew past the Rams' 2000 yardage mark.

Brees passed for 249 yards in the half, when he hit Colston for the Saints' first two passing touchdowns.

Both defenses struggled for much of the half, and the each time might have scored more if not for Patrick Robinson's interception of Newton in the Saints' end zone and R.J. Stanford's interception of Brees deep in Panthers territory.

Chris Ivory gave the Saints a 7-0 lead on the opening series of the game with his 35-yard touchdown.

The improving Panthers hit right back with Newton's 12-yard timing pass to Smith to tie it. Later, Jonathan Stewart's 29-yard scoring run pulled the Panthers into a tie at 17 with 1:18 to go in the second quarter.

That was too much time for Brees and the Saints' high-flying offense, as Brees connected on his long TD pass to Colston with 7 seconds on the clock to make it 24-17 at halftime

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