The New Orleans Saints came up just short of handing Carolina its first loss of the season on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome but the Panthers rallied for a 41-38 victory.
Carolina, the NFL's lone unbeaten team, is now 12-0 while the Saints lost their fourth consecutive game and are 4-8.
Quarterback Cam Newton led the way for Carolina by completing 28 of 41 passes for 331 yards and five touchdowns with one interception. Tight end Greg Olsen was his top target with nine catches for 129 yards. Jonathan Stewart ran the ball 21 times for 82 yards and one touchdown. The game went back and forth for much of the second half and the Saints took a 38-34 lead on Mark Ingram's 9-yard touchdown run with 5:21 to play. But Newton led Carolina on a game-winning drive that started from Carolina's 25-yard line. The defining play was a controversial fourth-and-five completion to Olsen in which it appeared the tip of the ball hit the ground. The officials called it a catch, Coach Sean Payton challenged it but the officials upheld the call. Carolina scored shortly after that on a 15-yard pass from Newton to Jerricho Cotchery with a 1:05 to play.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees was able to drive the Saints quickly to midfield but the drive ended on a fourth-down pass to Brandin Cooks that fell incomplete.
Brees was 24 of 42 for 282 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Cooks was his top target with six receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown, a 54-yard bomb in the third quarter. Ingram carried the ball 12 times for 56 yards and one touchdown.
The Saints forced three Carolina turnovers in the first half and returned a blocked extra-point attempt for two points but couldn't slow down the Panthers in the second half as they outscored the Saints 28-22 after halftime. Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux had to leave the game in th first half and was unable to play the rest of the game.
The Saints play at Tampa Bay (6-6) next Sunday.