The New Orleans Saints put a stranglehold on the NFC South title race with their heart-stopping 34-31 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Nov. 24 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Kicker Wil Lutz knocked home the game-winning field goal as time expired after Panthers kicker Joey Slye missed a crucial go-ahead field goal with just under two minutes to play - his third missed kick in the game - which allowed the Saints to drive down and secure the win.
With the win, New Orleans (9-2) holds a four-game lead in the division over second place Carolina (5-6) and is in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs with the Packers, 49ers, and Seahawks.
The offense was firing on all cylinders with a healthy mix of run and pass. Quarterback Drew Brees completed 30-of-39 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns, while Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray combined for 18 carries and 118 yards. Tight end Jared Cook had a big day hauling in six receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown.
"I've got a ton of confidence in throwing to him," Brees said of Cook. "Just overall, I think his confidence level and that rhythm that we are finding is a good thing."
Receiver Michael Thomas continued his dominance once again vs. Carolina. Thomas, who entered the game leading the NFL in receptions through Week 11, hit the 100-reception mark with his sixth catch Sunday. He is the fifth receiver with 100+ catches and 1,200+ receiving yards in three straight seasons in league history. Thomas caught 10 passes for 101 yards and a score including a big catch on the game-winning drive.
Linebacker Demario Davis logged 11 total tackles including one sack. The defense as a whole registered four sacks, but struggled to slow down Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, who tallied 134 total yards from scrimmage. However, the defense came up with a big stop on the Panthers final possession which led to the the miss by Slye.
"Getting the stop defensively to force the field goal was big," Coach Sean Payton said.
Both units were missing key starters for the second week in a row - cornerback Marshon Lattimore and guard Andrus Peat - yet their replacements stepped in and performed. Nick Easton started at left guard for Peat while Williams started at cornerback opposite Eli Apple. Saints left tackle Terron Armstead exited the game in the first half with an ankle injury and did not return. Armstead was replaced by Patrick Omameh.
The Saints committed 12 penalties for 123 yards compared to three penalties for 25 yards committed by the Panthers. The most controversial penalty occurred on the Panthers' final drive when Panthers Coach Ron Rivera challenged a non-pass interference call. The Panthers won the challenge, one of the few times the new rule has been applied this season. The more than 73,000 Saints fans in attendance voiced their displeasure with the New York office changing the ruling on the field.
"I think the thing that'll be discussed probably for the rest of the season and onwards is, pass interference. What is and what is not," Brees said. "It was kind of my impression, based on what I've seen this year, is they're not going to overturn anything unless it's like what happened in the NFC Championship, where it's a total timing thing and prevents the tragedy. Now one got overturned today. That's one out of I don't know how many that haven't. That was interesting. Why that one versus some others. Again, at some point, there is someone that's making a judgment call, a human decision that's being made. It's impossible for that to always be consistent."
New Orleans travels to Atlanta on a short week to face the Falcons (3-8) on Thanksgiving at 7:20 p.m. central on NBC.
For complete game stats, click here.