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New Orleans Saints produce enough winning plays to fend off Carolina

Saints overcame 12 penalties and a turnover in 34-31 victory

Check out the NFC South division action between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers in Week 12 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

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New Orleans Saints

Well, it wasn't anywhere near as clean as the New Orleans Saints hoped it would be.

The Saints took control, gave it back, then latched onto it again – by the fingertips – at the end of Sunday's 34-31 victory over Carolina in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a victory that wasn't secured until Wil Lutz kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired.

New Orleans (9-2) now leads the NFC South Division by four games with five left to play in the regular season, and the Saints maintain control of their destiny. But Sunday's victory didn't quench the thirst as thoroughly as did their previous win, a 34-17 thumping of Tampa Bay. There was much to like, and dislike, about Sunday's win. And New Orleans needed a gargantuan helping hand to win in regulation; Carolina kicker Joey Slye missed two point-after attempts and a 28-yard field goal attempt, and the Panthers failed on a two-point conversion.

The biggest like, though, was that it was a win. They aren't always pleasant to the eye, but each helps New Orleans' quest to win a third consecutive division title.

OFFENSE: We'll start with the bad and the ugly. That would be the third-down inefficiency (4 of 10), some red zone squandering (2 of 4) and half of the team's 12 penalties, one of which erased a fourth-down conversion and another which took away a successful two-point conversion. That many penalties (a couple were declined) is a lot to overcome, and New Orleans was fortunate to overcome them. But they were able to because when the Saints didn't hinder themselves with penalties, they were extremely efficient. Drew Brees completed 30 of 39 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception; the Panthers were allowing 233 passing yards per game entering Sunday. The Saints also averaged 6.6 yards per carry on 18 attempts, with a rushing touchdown, and averaged a whopping 7.1 yards per play against Carolina. Plus, they allowed just two sacks, half of Carolina's per-game average. Fortunately for New Orleans, there were more winning numbers than victory-costing ones.

DEFENSE: Another mixed bag. Busted coverages led to a 51-yard touchdown catch by DJ Moore and a couple of uncovered swing passes to running back Christian McCaffrey, Carolina's top offensive threat and a player who never, ever can be left unattended. And five defensive penalties (a couple were declined) included a personal foul after a third-down sack; two more hands to the face infractions; and end zone pass interference; and a 2-yard pass interference that initially was ruled an incompletion, but overturned on a challenge. Here's the good: Four sacks; McCaffrey was held to 64 rushing yards on 22 carries; and one, key red-zone stop in the fourth quarter that would've made life a lot more difficult if Carolina had converted it. Instead of taking a touchdown lead, Marcus Davenport's third-down sack forced a field goal attempt, and the Panthers missed it to open the door for the game-winning drive.

SPECIAL TEAMS: New Orleans was clean here. Lutz made two field goals, Thomas Morstead was his usual self (three punts for a 42.7-yard net and a 49.3-yard gross) and there weren't many opportunities in the return game. The big special team play for New Orleans came in punt coverage, when J.T. Gray recovered a muffed punt and gave the Saints a short field to traverse to the end zone. That 27-yard drive gave the Saints an early 14-0 lead and, in the end, turned out to be a needed touchdown.

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