Charlotte - The New Orleans Saints' second-half rally came up short as the Carolina Panthers secured a 23-20 victory Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium.
The loss drops the Saints to 4-6.
The Saints trailed 20-3 at halftime largely because of two turnovers and a pair of special teams mistakes but put up a strong rally behind a resurgent defense which shut down Carolina's offense in the second half, surrendering only a 42-yard Graham Gano field goal.
The Saints scored on a 30-yard Wil Lutz field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, on a 9-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Brees to Brandon Coleman and on an 8-yard pass from Brees to tight end Coby Fleener with 2:52 to play.
But the Panthers (4-6) were able to run out most of the clock on their possession, converting a crucial third-and-10 when Cam Newton connected with Kelvin Benjamin for an 18-yard play. The Panthers punted but the Saints failed to score in the remaining 14 seconds.
The Panthers suffered a string of injurties in the seconf half, losing star linebacker Luke Kuechly, starting center Ryan Kalil and starting defensive end Mario Addison. The Saints lost running back Mark Ingram in the second half to a possible concussion.
Turnovers and special-teams play hurt the Saints in the first half. Brees was sacked and lost a fumble on the team's first possession. Carolina converted that into a 32-yard Gano field goal. Later in the half Carolina safety Kurt Coleman intercepted a pass intended for Fleener. The Panthers converted that with a 1-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart.
The special teams unit put the Saints offense in a bad spot when returner Marcus Murphy took a Carolina kickoff and stepped out of bounds at the 1. The Saints were forced to punt and the Panthers took over at the 49-yard field goal which set them up for a 49-yard Gano field goal.
On the following possession the Panthers blocked a 38-yard field-goal attempt by Lutz and returned it for a touchdown that was wiped out by an illegal blocking penalty. But on the next play Newton hit Ted Ginn Jr. with a 40-yard touchdown pass.
The Saints scored on a 27-yard field goal with 36 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Saints host the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Nov. 27.
Saints stat leaders
Brees, 35 of 44 for 285 yards with two TDs and one interception
Tim Hightower, 12 carries for 69 yards and eight receptions for 57 yards
Cooks, seven catches for 42 yards
Panthers stat leaders
Cam Newton, 14 of 33 for 192 yards with one touchdown
Jonathan Stewart, 18 carries for 31 yards
Kelvin Benjamin, three catches for 56 yards