Three takeaways from Saints' win over Panthers

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

As Payton discussed the most striking aspects of the Saints' evolution this season, he began by highlighting "the amount of guys we've had to replace and the new faces that are stepping up".

Drew Brees passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns, and the New Orleans Saints held off the Carolina Panthers' late comeback bid to seal a 31-26 victory in their NFC wild-card game on Sunday. The victor advances to the NFC championship game.

Newton echoed his coach's description of what happened during the game.

Carolina traveled 63 yards using 13 plays that got the team down to New Orleans' 7-yard line, but the Panthers were unable to cash in.

The Panthers essentially dared Brees to beat them, taking a defensive approach that focused on stopping the New Orleans running game. On a fourth-and-2, Brees threw the ball up, and Carolina's Mike Adams reeled in the ball for what ended up being a 16-yard loss of field position.

But the Saints also got touchdowns on a 9-yard pass from Brees to Hill, who was wide open in the left corner of the end zone, and a 1-yard run by Line, which capped an eight-play, 75-yard drive at the end of the half. "My helmet had come down low enough over my eyelid and it got pressed by the player's stomach, I believe", Newton said.

Panthers leading receiver Devin Funchess, too, is active as expected after being listed as questionable with a sore shoulder.

When I heard the call, I said, 'Go make a play. "I'm not going to take the cowardly way and point somebody else out". Defensive end Cameron Jordan then joined Bell in bring Newton to the ground.

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Meanwhile, Saints coach Sean Payton will be trying to change or disguise most everything his offense has done against the Panthers, which may be hard as those old plays accounted for 400 yards in the 31-21 win and 362 yards in the 34-13 victory.

"Our quarterback was out of the pocket", he said.

But the 80-yard bomb helped New Orleans to 229 yards on its next three drives, to a 21-9 halftime lead, while Clay's drop (followed by Graham Gano's first missed field goal since Week 5), kept the Panthers just out of reach even as they fought back to within five points in the fourth quarter. New Orleans kept turning two of Newton's favorite targets loose; tight end Greg Olsen finished with eight catches for 107 yards, and rookie running back Christian McCaffrey added 101 yards on six catches.

From the bottom of our hearts, we'd sincerely like to thank the postseason schedule makers for slotting Drew Brees vs.

"That's what we did the majority of the game", Bell said.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera told reporters that Cam was taken into the medical tent only as a precaution and that team doctors were more focused on Newton's eye. Other players have developed into more significant roles as the Saints ascended to the top of the NFC South and past the wild-card round of the playoffs.

The Panthers (11-5) are hoping quarterback Cam Newton will rebound from his very bad performance - he completed 14-of-34 passes for 180 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions - during the 22-10 loss to Atlanta in Week 17.

Newton wound up completing 24 of 40 passes for 349 yards.

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