The New Orleans Saints took over sole possession of first place in the NFC South with a dominating 31-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The win improved the Saints to 10-3 (7-0 at home) while dropping the Panthers into second at 9-4.
"Obviously, it was an important win for us." Saints Coach Sean Payton said after ending the Panthers' eight-game winning streak. "The concern I had coming into the game was having the energy we needed to play a divisional game on a short week. ... I thought we played with a lot of emotion. ... I thougnt the score late in the second quarter was important. ...
"Good win, good team win against a team we're going to see again in a couple of week."
It was a game full of milestones for the Saints as quarterback Drew Brees joined the exclusive 50,000-yard club, set an NFL record with eight consecutive seasons of passing for more than 4,000 yards and notched his sixth consecutive season with 30 or more touchdown passes, breaking a tie with Brett Favre.
Brees was spectacular, completing 30 of 42 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns, giving him a rating over 124.4. The four TDs were equally divided between his two favorite targets - receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham. Colston had the best game of his season with nine catches for 125 yards while Graham cracked the 1,000-yard mark with six catches for 58 yards. The touchdowns were his 13th and 14th on the season.
Brees now has 50,026 yards on his career (4,107 this season), joining Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and John Elway as players who have passed for more than 50,000 yards in their career. Brees did it in just 183 games, the fastest of the five.
"That's a pretty unique feat," Payton said. "To be in that class of four (other people) ... Happy for him, obviously proud of him. The Saints' defense - which was coming off a subpar outing last Monday against Seattle - was equally as impressive, sacking Carolina quarterback Cam Newton fives times and holding the Panthers to just two first quarter field goals and a late 17-yard TD pass to Steve Smith. Defensive end Junior Galette had three sacks while fellow end Cameron Jordan finished with two. Newton was 22 of 34 for 160 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
The Panthers were outgained 373-239 and converted just 6 of 15 third-down attempts. The saints were 7 of 12 on third down and did not have a turnover.
After trailing 6-0 after the first quarter, the Saints went on a 31-0 run which was sparked by a 21-point second quarter. Brees connected with Colston for 6-yard and 15-yard scoring passes to end long scoring drives. The first drive was nine plays, 80 yards and ate up 3:21 on the clock. The second scoring drive was 11 plays for 86 yards and took 5:44 off the clock. Brees then led the Saints 76 yards capped by a 5-yard TD pass to tight end Jimmy Graham with 18 seconds left in the half.
Brees' 6-yard touchdown pass to Colston in the second quarter was his 30th of the season, the sixth straight year he has thrown 30 or more TD passes. That broke a tie with Favre (five straight from 1994-98) for the most consecutive seasons of 30-plus TD passes in NFL history.
The Saints play at St. Louis (5-8) next Sunday at 3:25 p.m. and then travel to play Carolina again on Dec. 22. They will end the regular season at home on Dec. 29 against Tampa Bay. If the season ended today the Saints would be the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Seattle at 11-2 currently has the best record in the NFC.