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New Orleans Saints beat Panthers 31-26, advance to play Vikings in divisional round

Brees, defense lead Saints to wild-card win at Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Check out the playoff action as the Saints host the Panthers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The New Orleans Saints advanced to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs with a heart-stopping 31-26 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in a wild-card game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Saints (12-5) will play at the Minnesota Vikings (13-3) next Sunday in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs at 3:40 p.m. on Fox. The Saints lost their season-opener at Minnesota 29-19

Quarterback Drew Brees was at his very best Sunday, completing 23 of 33 passes for 376 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yard bomb to Ted Ginn Jr.  to open the scoring. The Saints defense - especially Cam Jordan - was just as effective as they forced Carolina (11-6) into five field-goal attempts before letting them into the end zone and then held off a last-gasp drive.

It was the Saints' first playoff victory since 2013 and their first home playoff win since 2011. Brees and Coach Sean Payton have never lost a playoff game in the Superdome.

The Saints grabbed a 21-9 halftime lead thanks to Ginn's score, a 9-yard scoring pass from Brees to tight end Josh Hill, who played perhaps the best game of his career, and a 1-yard dive by fullback Zach Line. The offense struggled early in the second half, especially the run game, settling for a 57-yard Wil Lutz field goal before rookie Alvin Kamara scored on a 2-yard run with 5:08 to play.

In addition to Hill (three catches for 49 yards), receivers Michael Thomas and Ginn had excellent games, Thomas with eight catches for 131 yards and Ginn with four for 115 yards and the TD.

But Carolina, just two years removed from the Super Bowl, refused to go away, scoring on a 56-yard catch-and-run by rookie Christian McCaffrey with 4:09 left.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton had to leave the game with about 8:30 left in the fourthq quarter after taking a hard sack from defensive tackle David Onyemata. Derek Anderson came in and his pass was batted down by Cam Jordan, his second batted pass of the game to along with a sack. Newton returned on the next possession.

Carolina took over with 1:51 to play on their 31-yard line, after matching into Saints territory Jordan forced Newton into an intentional grounding call and then he was sacked by Vonn Bell to end the game.

The Saints lost starting left guard Andrus Peat to injury early in the second quarter. He had to be carted off with his left leg immobilized. Veteran Senio Kelemete replaced Peat.

New Orleans Saints key stats

Drew Brees, 23 of 33 for 376 yards with two TDs and one interception

Mark Ingram II, nine carries for 22 yards

Ted Ginn Jr., four catches for 115 yards and one TD

Michael Thomas, eight catches for 131 yards

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