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Carolina Panthers beat Saints 17-13 to secure playoff spot

Domenik Hixon catches 14-yard TD pass with 23 seconds to play

Charlotte, N.C. - Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton hit receiver Domenik Hixon with a 14-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds to play Sunday to give the Panthers a 17-13 win and clinch a playoff spot.

The Panthers (11-4) can wrap up the NFC South with a win next week at Atlanta while the Saints (10-5) will need to beat Tampa Bay next week and have the Falcons win to capture the division and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.

It appeared the Saints had the game won when quarterback Drew Brees led them on an 11-play, 97-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 5-yard toss to tight end Jimmy Graham. But after an exchange of punts the Panthers drove 65 yards in five plays and just 32 seconds to win. The big play was a 37-yard Newton completion to Ted Ginn.

The Saints could secure at least a wild-card spot later Sunday if Arizona loses at Seattle.

Newton was average for most of the game, going 0-for-9 on third down, until the game-winning drive. He finished 13 of 22 for 181 yards with the touchdown and an interception. DeAngelo Williams scored the Panthers' other touchdown on a 43-yard scamper up the middle in the second quarter.

Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly registered 24 tackles, most in an NFL game since 2007.

The Saints, starting rookie Terron Armstead at left tackle, had protectiion problems all game as Brees was sacked six times. The Saints got the ball back but Brees' Hail Mary from midfield was knocked down.

He finished 30 of 44 for 281 yards with the one touchdown and two interceptions. Graham finished with five receptions for 73 yards while Marques Colston had five catches for 63 yards as he recorded the 600th reception of his career.

Mark Ingram had an excellent game for the Saints with 13 carries for 83 yards including a 34-yard run that set up one of the two field goals Shayne Graham had in the first half.

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