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Panthers 44, Saints 38

The SportsXchange

NEW ORLEANS -- Picking apart what officially qualifies as the worst defense in NFL history, DeAngelo Williams rushed for 210 yards on 21 carries and the Carolina Panthers rolled up 530 yards in total offense and scored 28 consecutive second-half points to points to defeat the New Orleans Saints 44-38 Sunday at the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

The Panthers' offensive output added final humiliation to a black-cloud season for the Saints defense. The Saints (7-9) allowed 7,042 yards in 16 games (a 440.1-yard average), breaking the all-time NFL record of 6,793 yards set by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.

In sweeping the Saints, the Panthers (7-9) rebounded from a 24-13 hole early in the second half with touchdowns on four of five possessions, two of which came at the end of 80-yard drives during which the Saints could not stop Williams.

The Panthers led 41-24 with 8:23 left before the Saints got two late touchdown passes from Drew Brees to make the result look respectable.

The Panthers took a 10-0 lead on a 20-yard field goal by Graham Gano and a 1-yard TD run by Mike Tolbert -- set up by Williams' 65-yard scamper to the Saints' 1. The Panthers held a 223-58 edge in total offense before the Saints broke out of their doldrums by scoring two touchdowns in 43 seconds of the second quarter to take a 14-10 lead.

The first touchdown came after the Saints gambled on fourth-and-1 from the Carolina 7, with Brees connecting on a slant to Marques Colston. Brees' touchdown pass was his 40th of the season, making him only the second quarterback in NFL history -- the other was Dan Marino -- to have two seasons of at least 40 touchdown passes.

Then on Carolina's next possession, Newton pump-faked to his left before wheeling and throwing a screen pass back to his right. The pass was intended for Williams, but linebacker Jonathan Vilma jumped the route for the interception and ran 18 yards untouched for the score, putting the Saints up 14-10.

Graham Gano's 31-yard field goal cut the lead to 14-13 just 34 seconds before halftime, but with three timeouts, Brees completed three passes to set up a 53-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley as time expired to extend the Saints' lead to 17-13.

When Brees took the Saints 80 yards in eight plays with the second-half kickoff a found tight end Jimmy Graham for a 19-yard score, the Saints led 24-13.

But it was a critical replay review on Carolina's next series that turned the game's momentum. Tight end Greg Olsen made a spectacular left-handed grab on the left sidelines, but safety Roman Harper punched out the ball on the tackle, and cornerback Johnny Patrick picked up the loose ball at the Carolina 22.

Saints coach Joe Vitt challenged the call, but referee Al Riveron said while Olsen had fumbled, it was unclear whether Patrick, whose right foot was close to the sidelines, had a "clear path" to recovering the ball. Carolina retained possession at the Panther 23, and three plays later, Williams burst 54 yards through the left side for a touchdown that drew Carolina within 24-20.

Two series later, Brees threw into coverage and was picked off by safety Charles Godfrey at the New Orleans 36. Newton found Steve Smith for 31 yards on a seam route, and Tolbert got the payoff with 1-yard touchdown run, putting the Panthers up 27-24.

Tolbert got his third 1-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter, and Williams took advantage of Armanti Edwards' 61-yard punt return for a 12-yard touchdown run off left tackle, extending the Carolina lead to 41-24 with 8:23 left.

Notes: Brees became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 15,000 cumulative yards in seasons in succession. ... With four catches for 121 yards, Lance Moore recorded his first 1,000-yard receiving season.
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