The Saints claimed a dramatic 30-27 win over the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium Sunday afternoon in their division opener.
After having a 23-13 lead in the third quarter, the Saints found themselves trailing 27-23 with less than a minute to go.
QB Drew Brees connected with RB Pierre Thomas with 50 seconds left for a six-yard go-ahead touchdown to give the Saints a 30-27 lead.
"I am proud of the way our guys fought," said Saints Head Coach Sean Payton. "The momentum swings in the second half and we were battling a lot. It's an important win for us and obviously an exciting one."
Brees finished the game completing 32-45 for 359 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for a 100.1 quarterback rating.
Sproles led the saints in rushing with 51 yards on 11 carries. The multi-talented weapon also added five receptions for 40 yards.
Rookie RB Mark Ingram rushed for 32 yards on nine carries and a score.
For the third straight game, TE Jimmy Graham went over 100 yards receiving with eight catches for 129 yards. Graham's stats over the past three games: 22 recs, 361 yards and 2 touchdowns.
S Malcolm Jenkins led the defense with sick tackles.
Carolina won the coin toss, elected to receive and would start at their 23. The game's opening pass was picked off by CB Patrick Robinson and returned to the Panthers six-yard line. Following a facemask penalty on Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams, a three-yard penalty was assessed.
With the ball for the first time, RB Pierre Thomas took the opening handoff and gained two yards to the one. On second down, FB Jed Collins was stopped short of the end zone. On third down, Collins took a screen pass from Brees to give the Saints an early 7-0.
P Thomas Morstead's first kickoff sailed into the end zone for a touchback. Williams amended for his earlier penalty, ripping off runs of 13 and 18 yards to move to the Saints 49-yard line. Newton then took his first rush of the day after a snap but was stopped by LB Jonathan Casillas after only a two-yard gain. On second down, Newton threw to TE Jeremy Shockey, as the former Saint gained four yards before being dropped by LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar. On third down, Newton overthrew WR Steve Smith to send the punting unit out. Sproles called a fair catch at the eight-yard line.
On first down, Brees threw a completion for a nine-yard gain to Sproles. The signal-caller took to running backs again and threw to Ingram who gained nine yards for the first down. With a fresh set of downs, Brees threw down the middle to WR Marques Colston, who took a hit after a 22-yard gain and held onto the ball. Thomas then took a handoff to gain four yards and move to the Carolina 48. Sproles took the handoff and tried to run outside but was stopped by LB James Anderson for a loss of three yards.
Sproles then took a draw play and advanced deep into Carolina territory to the Panthers 18, gaining 23 yards following a Payton challenge that ruled after an initial called fumble that he had his knee down.
Brees then went for the end zone and on the play, Panthers CB Captain Munnerlyn was called for pass interference. On first down at the 11, Brees handed off to Sproles who was stopped for no gain. On second down, the signal-caller, completed a pass to Graham who was stopped at the five by Carolina CB Darius Butler. On third down, throw intended for Graham in the end zone was broken up by Panthers S Charles Godfrey. K John Kasay then booted a 23-yard field goal to put the Saints up 10-0.
Morstead's third kickoff went into the first row of the stands, starting the Panthers at the 20. On first down, Newton completed a short throw to WR Legedu Naanee for a five-yard gain. On second down, the 2010 Heisman winner handed off to Williams, who was stopped by DT Aubrayo Franklin for no gain. On third-and-five, following a Panthers timeout, Newton dropped back and connected with Naanee for a 28-yard gain. WR Steve Smith took an end around for what could have been a big gain on the next play, but Naanee was called for holding on a block, setting the Panthers back at their 37. Newton's next throw was nearly picked off by LB Scott Shanle on a throw intended for Shockey. On second down, Newton connected with TE Greg Olsen for a nine-yard gain. On third-and-11, under pressure, the rookie QB found Smith downfield, went into the end zone. Also on the play, S Roman Harper was assessed a late hit penalty. However, the touchdown would only account for six as the extra point attempt was blocked by Robinson.
Starting at the 20, Brees' first pass of the drive intended for Graham was broken up by Panthers CB Chris Gamble. On second down, Brees made a short pass to WR Lance Moore that resulted in a four-yard gain. On third down, Brees and Graham made amends for earlier with an 18-yard completion to their 44. Ingram then took his first handoff of the game, but the play was negated by a penalty for 12 men on the field against Carolina, which advanced the Saints to the 49. Brees took advantage of the first-and-five and took a long shot intended for Moore. On second down, Thomas carried to Panther territory at the 47 with a four-yard gain. On third down, Sproles was stopped for a one-yard loss, forcing Morstead out to punt who booted a 34-yard kick with a nine-yard return by RS Armanti Edwards.
On first down at the 25, Newton overthrew Olsen. On third down down, the signal-caller was dropped by DT Aubrayo Franklin for a five-yard loss. Sproles fielded the punt by Jason Baker at the New Orleans 27. S Malcolm Jenkins was assessed a holding penalty on the punt, moving the Saints back to the 22 for starting position.
On first down, Sproles took a handoff and ran near the Saints sideline for a seven-yard gain. The runner was then split wide for a pass play, but was stopped in coverage by Panthers LB Omar Gaither. On third-and-three, G Jahri Evans was called for a false start. On third down, Brees completed a pass to Colston of eight yards and the first down. A handoff to Ingram resulted in a four-yard gain before he was stopped by Anderson. A second down throw to Moore moved the chains and advanced the Saints to the 46. Brees then found an open WR Robert Meachem near the Saints sideline for another first down and a 13-yard gain. Ingram then took the next carry, moving forward for a gain of one. Thomas took the next handoff and advanced two yards to the 38.
On third-and-seven, a 25-yard completion from Brees to Graham put the Saints at the 15. Ingram then gained four yards before being brought down by Anderson followed by a pass from Brees to the 2009 Heisman winner for a seven-yard gain. On third and three, following a timeout, a slant to Graham picked up four more and the first down, setting up first and goal from the two, where it appeared that Ingram had scored, but it was ruled that his knee was down at the one. The rookie dove for the touchdown though on the next play, giving the Saints a 17-6 lead.
Starting at the 19-yard line, Newton's deep throw was broken up by LB Jonathan Vilma. Newton then made a short completion to Smith for a six-yard gain before he was pushed out of bounds by CB Tracy Porter. On third down, Newton rushed forward for six yards and the first down before being stopped by DE Will Smith. He then made a pitch to Williams; here he gained 69 yards, eluding several Saints tacklers for the touchdown.
Following a touchback by K Olindo Mare, New Orleans would start at their 20. Brees got the Saints back on their game, completing an intermediate throw to WR Devery Henderson for a 11-yard gain. A throw intended for Colston was then dropped by the wideout. On second-and-ten, Sproles took a handoff and gained nine yards. On third-and-one Sproles carried up the middle for a gain of six yards and the first down. On the final play before the two-minute warning, Brees was sacked by Munnerlyn for a loss of six. Completions to Sproles and Moore though put the Saints in Carolina territory and moved the chains. Following a first down incomplete throw, Brees found Meachem for a 14-yard gain to advance the Saints to the 30. After Brees spiked the ball to stop the clock, he was dropped by DE Greg Hardy for a ten-yard loss, forcing a timeout. A screen to Sproles advanced the Saints back to the 27 with 11 seconds left. As the field goal unit came out, the Panthers called a timeout with two seconds left. In the final play of the first half in a homecoming to his former stadium, Kasay drilled a 46-yard field goal to put the Saints up 20-13 at halftime.
On the opening kickoff of the second half, Mare booted a touchback. Starting at the 20, Brees completed a pass to Graham under heavy coverage to midfield for a 30-yard gain, as the second-year tight end did a great job of holding onto the ball. Following a first down incompletion, Brees completed a throw to Sproles who went out of bounds with a nine-yard gain to the 41. On third and one, Ingram converted and pushed the pile for a gain of eight yards before he was tackled by Hardy and LB Jason Williams. Ingram took the next handoff and gained eight more before being tackled by Munnerlyn. Sproles then eluded several defenders to convert a first down on a four-yard rush. With a fresh set of downs, Hardy deflected a screen intended for Sproles. On second down, Sproles sprinted forward for a gain of two before being dropped by Williams. On third-and-eight, Brees completed a pass to Thomas for no gain, sending Kasay out to hit a 37-yard attempt and a 23-13 lead.
Following a touchback by Morstead, the Panthers would start at the 20 for their first drive of the second half. Williams' first down carry, gained six yards before he was dropped by Vilma. On second down, Williams took the handoff and was stopped after gaining only one yard by Dunbar. The Panthers converted the first down though with a four-yard run by RB Jonathan Stewart as he advanced to the 31. Newton then rolled out and threw to Shockey who gained eight yards before being tackled by Dunbar. A handoff to Stewart on the next play resulted in a three-yard loss as he was dropped by the interior combination of Franklin and Sedrick Ellis. On third down, DE Turk McBride was called for a roughing the passer penalty that would advance the Panthers to the Saints 49. Newton then threw to Shockey who was dropped by Shanle after gaining nine yards.
DT Tom Johnson was then called for a neutral zone infraction, advancing the ball to the 35 and giving the Panthers a fresh set of downs. Newton completed a pass to Stewart, which resulted in a gain of 12 before he was tackled by S Malcolm Jenkins. Williams then carried up the middle before he was stopped by Franklin after picking up only two yards.
On second down, Newton look to the end zone, but his throw sailed out of bounds. However on third down, Newton found WR Brandon LaFell, who gained 20 yards before his left knee went down before the goal line. Newton took the ball into his own hands and was stopped short of the end zone by DT Shaun Rogers. On the second try, the rookie succeeded and following the extra point, New Orleans' lead was cut down to three.
Following a Mare touchback and starting position at the 20, Brees and Graham immediately connected for a 20-yard gain. Thomas then gained two yards on a carry. On second down, a pass intended for Graham went off his fingers and was intercepted by Panthers S Sherrod Martin at the Carolina 41-yard line.
Newton immediately aimed for Shockey who dropped a pass at the New Orleans 45. On second down out of the shotgun, Newton found Naanee for a screen and a 28-yard gain before he was stopped by Jenkins. Newton then completed a pass to FB Jerome Felton before he was tackled by Dunbar following a gain of seven. Newton then handed off to Stewart who was stopped after gaining only one yard by several Saints defenders. On third and two, Newton rolled out, escaped and slid for the first down, advancing to the 19 on the final play of the third quarter. Newton gained 13 yards on a rush, then following an incomplete throw intended for Shockey, Johnson stopped Williams on a direct snap play at the two. Rogers was then called for a personal foul penalty, putting the Panthers at the one. The Panthers were then moved back five yards on a false start penalty assessed to C Ryan Kalil. Newton took a direct snap rush and was stopped after a one-yard gain by Vilma at the five. On second down, a throw in the end zone intended for Shockey fell on the ground. On third down though, Newton found Olsen for the five-yard touchdown to give Carolina the 27-23 lead.
Sproles would take the touchback to start the Saints at their 20. Brees handed off to the runner, who gained only one yard before being stopped by Panthers LB Dan Connor. Sproles took another handoff for a three-yard gain before being dropped by Williams and Anderson. However, a clutch Marques Colston had a key third down conversion to the 39 for a gain of 15. A pass for Moore was then deflected by Butler and then the two failed to connect on second down. Facing third and ten, Brees completed a throw to Sproles, but only five yards were gained before he was knocked out of bounds by Martin. Morstead booted a 54-yard punt that went into the end zone.
Stewart took two consecutive handoffs for gains of seven and nine yards. Stewart took the next handoff too, but was stopped by Vilma after going forward only one yards. A third-and-two was set up after a seven-yard pass from Newton to Olsen. A long third down attempt intended for Smith was well-covered by Robinson and fell short of the explosive wideout. Sproles called a fair catch at their 11-yard line on the 44-yard punt.
On the first play of their drive, Brees completed a throw to Meachem for a five-yard gain before he was tackled by Williams. On second down, Ingram took a handoff for a gain of three before being tackled by LB Antwan Applewhite. But two consecutive first downs took place with throws of 14- and 12-yards to Graham. Following an incomplete throw, Thomas took a screen out of the backfield and gained 18 yards to the 38-yard line. Ingram then carried and moved forward two yards. Under pressure, Brees completed a throw for ten and the first down to Colston. Brees handed off to Thomas with a fresh set of downs, gaining three yards. Brees then completed a six-yard throw to Meachem, one yard short of the marker, setting up a third-and-one at the two minute warning. Ingram took the handoff for a gain of two to the 15 before being tackled by Anderson. Brees then completed a throw to Colston at the middle of the field for a nine-yard gain where he was tackled by Godfrey for a gain of nine at the six-yard line. Brees then found a wide open Thomas for the receiving touchdown.
The Panthers drove down to their 49-yard with five seconds left in the game. On 3rd and 12, a deep pass by Newton intended for WR Steve Smith fell incomplete.