Brees leads Saints past Panthers in NFC wild card game

Drew Brees threw for 376 yards and two touchdowns and the New Orleans Saints defense slammed the door on a last-minute comeback bid by Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers to hang on for a 31-26 victory in Sunday’s NFC wild-card game.

With 58 seconds left, the Panthers had a first down on the Saints 26-yard line. But under pressure brought by defensive end Cameron Jordan, Newton was flagged for intentional grounding, leaving Carolina with a third-and-25.

The late penalty came with a 10 second run-off, which ran the game clock down to 22 seconds. Two plays later, Newton was sacked and the Saints had sealed their third — and biggest — win of the season against the Panthers.

The Saints had a 21-9 halftime lead, thanks to two scoring passes by Brees, including an 80-yarder to former Panther Ted Ginn.

After a 27-yard filed goal by Graham Gano made it 7-3, Brees capped a 75-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Josh Hill. Brees was 7-7 on the drive.

Gano’s 39-yard field goal cut the Saints’ lead to 14-6 late, but Saints fullback Zach Line scored on a 1-yard run in the final minute of the half, making it 21-6. Carolina came back quickly behind Newton, who took the Panthers to the New Orleans 40 before they settled for a 58-yard field goal by Gano that barely slipped past the left upright as time expired.

Another Gano field goal, this one from 29 yards, cut the Saints lead to 21-12 early in the third quarter. The Saints Wil Lutz returned the favor with a 57-yard field goal before Carolina finally capitalized on a trip to the red zone after four failed attempts, when Newton hit tight end Greg Olson for a 14-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 24-19 early in the fourth quarter.