Carolina Panthers

Saints hold off Panthers in tightly contested Wild Card game, 31-26

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Saints hold off Panthers in tightly contested Wild Card game, 31-26

NEW ORLEANS -- Saints All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan grinned playfully as he glanced up at a bottle of red wine in the top shelf of his locker and asked if anyone knew Carolina quarterback Cam Newton's address.

A bottle with the name "Jordan" on the label - even if it isn't made by the Saints star's family - might be the last thing Newton wants right now.

Drew Brees and his receiving corps came through when Carolina stifled New Orleans' prolific backfield, and a relentless Jordan spearheaded a late defensive stand to seal a 31-26 an NFC wild-card round victory on Sunday.

"You can't be more happy about the way we played in terms of how we finished the game," Jordan said. "We almost let them back in the game, but here I am standing as winner. Here I am, as a Cam Jordan, sending Cam Newton a bottle of Jordan wine."

Brees passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns, but one more completion would have considerably lowered the stress level on the Saints' sideline. Coach Sean Payton kept the offense on the field on fourth-and-short with two minutes remaining and Carolina out of timeouts, hoping for one more first down that would have allowed New Orleans to run out the clock.

But Brees couldn't find an open receiver, was flushed out of the pocket and decided his best option was to throw it up for grabs. It was intercepted by safety Mike Adams, which turned out better for New Orleans than an incompletion because it meant the Panthers had to start from their own 31 instead of mid-field.

Still, Newton completed three straight passes to move the Panthers to the Saints 26-yard line with 58 seconds left before New Orleans' resistance stiffened.

"I'm frustrated," Newton said. "I hate that I couldn't do enough to get a win today for a lot of guys that I think so highly of.

"I just have to be better," he added. "I'm not going to take the cowardly way and point somebody else out."

The comeback bid began to fizzle when Jordan induced an intentional grounding penalty on Newton, making it third-and-25 on the Saints 34 and a requiring 10-second runoff that left 20 seconds on the clock.

After an incompletion in the end zone, Vonn Bell sacked Newton on a safety blitz , ensuring the Saints (12-5) swept all three meetings with Carolina (11-6) this season, in addition to winning the first postseason game they've played in four seasons.

"The coaches wanted to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands fast," Bell said. "They dialed it up and I said, `Go make a play.'"

Brees' touchdowns went for 80-yards to Ted Ginn and 9 yards to tight end Josh Hill. Fullback Zach line and running back Alvin Kamara each ran for short touchdowns, the latter set up by Michael Thomas' 46-yard reception .

"What we've shown offensively is we have a lot of ways to be effective," Brees said, mentioning clutch first-down catches by Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead in addition to the big plays by Ginn and Thomas. "The ball was spread around quite a bit and guys were making plays when they had the chances."

Thomas caught eight passes for 131 yards on a day when the Saints needed the passing game to compensate for a ground game that struggled to get going. Thomas said when he noticed the Panthers playing with one safety deep instead of their usual two, "you're licking your chops with a quarterback like Drew Brees and the talent we have. We knew what we had to do and it was on the receivers."

Ginn, a former Panthers receiver, celebrated the sweep of his former team by holding up a broom in the locker room.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Helped by the presence of tight end Greg Olsen - who did not play in the teams' previous two meetings - Newton marched Carolina into Saints territory more often than not. But the Panthers stalled four times inside the New Orleans 25 in the first three quarters. They settled for four field goal attempts on those drives, one of which kicker Graham Gano surprisingly missed from 25-yards.

Jordan called the Saints' red-zone stops "huge."

"Had half of those been touchdowns, we'd be sitting in a different spot," Jordan said.

KEY STATS

Olsen had eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Newton finished 24 of 40 passing for 349 yards and two touchdowns, including a 56-yard scoring strike to Christian McCaffrey that pulled the Panthers within a touchdown with 4:09 left.

Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, who combined for more than 3,000 yards from scrimmage this season, were held to 68 total yards.

RUSHING THE PASSSER

Newton was sacked four times, once each by Bell, Jordan, Jonathan Freeney, and David Onyemata. The sack by Onyemata came as Newton tried to spin away from Tyeler Davison and slammed his head into Onyemata's chest. Newton appeared to be checked for a concussion, but missed only one play before returning to the game on Carolina's next possession

Newton sat on the field near the sideline after the play, and while a new NFL rule calls for players to be taken to the locker room to be evaluated for concussions if they appear to be struggling to stand, Newton said part of his helmet got pushed into his eyelid. Panthers coach Ron Rivera offered a similar explanation and added that Newton only sat down to give backup Derek Anderson more time to warm up.

The NFL said it planned to discuss the matter with the Panthers medical staff before commenting further.

INJURIES

Panthers: Cornerback Daryl Worley briefly was placed in the concussion protocol but also cleared to return during the game.

Saints: Starting left guard Andrus Peat was carted off the field with a broken left fibula.

UP NEXT

Panthers: Begin the offseason after their fourth trip to the playoffs in five years lasted on game.

Saints: Move on to play at Minnesota in the NFC Divisional playoffs.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Falcons beat Panthers to clinch playoff spot

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Falcons beat Panthers to clinch playoff spot

ATLANTA - The Atlanta Falcons have no complaints about a short practice week and a long road trip as their reward for being the NFC's last team to make the playoffs.

Matt Bryant kicked five field goals, including a 56-yarder, for all of Atlanta's second-half points and the Falcons clinched a playoff spot by beating the Carolina Panthers 22-10 on Sunday.

Atlanta (10-6) is the No. 6 seed in the NFC and will play at the Los Angeles Rams in a wild-card game Saturday night. Click here for more. 

 

Panthers beat Buccaneers, snag a playoff spot

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Panthers beat Buccaneers, snag a playoff spot

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Cam Newton scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds remaining to lift the Carolina Panthers to a 22-19 win over the upset-minded Tampa Bay Buccaneers and clinch a spot in the NFC playoffs.

The Panthers (11-4) trailed most of the second half, but Newton drove the Panthers 59 yards completing 4 of 7 passes for 52 yards in the final 3 minutes before scoring on a what could have been a disastrous play. Newton fumbled the snap from the shotgun, alertly picked it up and then raced across the goal line for the go-ahead score.

Newton celebrated the score by using the football as a prop, pretending to light a candle on a cake in celebration of his son Chosen's 2nd birthday.

Carolina can clinch the NFC South championship with a win over Atlanta and a New Orleans loss to Tampa Bay.

The Panthers sealed the game when Kawann Short sacked Jameis Winston on Tampa Bay's final drive, and forced a fumble that Julius Peppers recovered. Winston threw for 367 yards and a touchdown but was sacked six times and fumbled three times. The Bucs are 4-11.

The Panthers offense struggled all day.

Newton threw for just 160 yards and ran for 52 yards on 14 carries. Carolina's only touchdown in the first three quarters came on a 103-yard kickoff return by Damiere Byrd.

Tampa Bay's defense set the tone early, limiting the Panthers to just 78 yards in the first half - the fewest in an opening half since Newton took over as Carolina's starting QB in 2012.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE