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Saints-Panthers: What we learned

The SportsXchange

NEW ORLEANS -- Quarterback Drew Brees is such an inexorable offensive force on the football field that sometimes his gaudiest personal benchmarks seem to whiz by without much notice.

While directing the New Orleans Saints to a 31-13 rout of the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Brees put up another trademark performance, torching the NFL's top scoring defense with four touchdown passes -- two each to wide receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham.

Brees became the first NFL quarterback in history to record six consecutive seasons of at least 30 touchdown passes. He now has 33 scoring passes this year against just eight interceptions.

On a night when he completed 30 of 42 passes for 313 yards, Brees also reached 50,000 career passing yards faster than any quarterback in NFL history. He did it in his 183rd game, eclipsing Peyton Manning's record of 191 games.

"In a lot of places when a quarterback has 50,000 yards, they might have fireworks and stop the game," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "This was just kind of a 'That a boy' (moment).

"It's a pretty unique feat. It just really shows his consistency, his durability and his availability, along with his skill set. I'm happy for him -- and obviously proud of him."

In snapping Carolina's eight-game winning streak, the Saints (10-3) took sole possession of first place in the NFC South. They were coming off a 34-7 loss to the Seahawks in deafening conditions Monday night in Seattle.

New Orleans' 31 points were the most allowed this season by the Panthers, who entered the night surrendering a league-low 13.1 points per game. Carolina gave up as many as 24 points only one other time this season, in a 24-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 2.

The Saints spotted Carolina a 6-0 first-quarter lead, then unleashed Brees and a raucous, sellout home crowd on the Panthers.

Brees threw scoring passes of 6 and 15 yards to Colston and 5 and 8 yards to Graham.

When Brees surpassed the 50,000-yard mark in the fourth quarter, he simply smiled and acknowledged the sellout crowd's ovation.

"I love this offense and I love what Sean Payton has put together," Brees said. "I love this group of guys that I get to chance to play with. We've been through some great times. We've shared the joy of a world championship, and now we're attempting to make another run at it."

The revived Saints defense sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton five times -- three by defensive end Junior Galette and two by defensive end Cameron Jordan -- and held him in check (22 of 34 for 160 yards and one touchdown).

Brees spread the ball around to so many receivers that sometimes Colston's contributions get overlooked. However, Colston found soft spots in the Panthers' zone to make nine catches for 125 yards. He lost another touchdown when his right knee came down a half-yard short of the goal line in the third quarter.

"He absolutely is one of the most underrated players in the NFL," Brees said of Colston. "He was a seventh-round draft choice and he had more catches than any player in NFL history his first two seasons, and he really hasn't stopped. He's so durable and reliable and such a big-time playmaker. I'll match his numbers up against anybody."

What the Saints said

"You've just got to see him throughout the week. The man works like I've never seen anyone work, and he deserves every bit of success that he gets." -- Wide receiver Marques Colston, on quarterback Drew Brees.

What the Panthers said

"The reality is we're 9-4 and still in position to make the playoffs, and we play the Saints (again at home) in two weeks. (New Orleans quarterback Drew) Brees was tough. It's amazing to watch him -- and frustrating at times. We get consistent pressure on him, and he's able to evade it. He's got his receivers coached up so good that he really gives a defense trouble." -- Offensive tackle Jordan Gross.

What we learned about the Saints

1. The Saints showed mental toughness in shaking off their embarrassing 34-7 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle on Monday night, treating the loud Superdome crowd to a well-rounded victory over a Carolina team that won eight straight coming in and swept them in 2012. Even more impressive was that the Saints did it on a short week -- made even shorter when their charter plane out of Seattle was grounded because of a cracked windshield and the team didn't arrive back in New Orleans until 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Coach Sean Payton adjusted the player schedule to have more mental than physical reps.

"I thought the schedule worked out, and I thought the players handled that part of it well," Payton said. "They had enough energy, and I thought we played with a lot of emotion."

2. The Saints are already looking ahead to Sunday's game in St. Louis. They struggled in recent years on the road against the Rams, squeaking out a victory in 2009 during their Super Bowl season and then losing in a rout in 2011.

"We understand the challenge of going there," quarterback Drew Brees said. "In 2011, they beat the pants off us. We're going to need our best week of preparation."

What we learned about the Panthers

1. Carolina wasted two excellent scoring opportunities early in the game, settling for field goals of 45 and 24 yards by kicker Graham Gano. On the first drive, they had a first down at the Saints' 26, only to bog down with a third-down sack of quarterback Cam Newton by defensive end Junior Galette.

One the second drive, they had a first-and-goal at the Saints 10, but a third-down blitz forced Newton to throw the ball away.

"The best thing is we have the opportunity to face the same team in two weeks," Newton said. "We have to go back and be accountable. Our job (on offense) is to put up points. The Saints did that tonight and we didn't. We had two great opportunities, two great field positions that we just didn't capitalize on. Playing a team like that, field goals aren't going to cut it."

2. Although the Panthers didn't have any false starts on offense, the Superdome crowd noise seemed to affect the Panthers in the same way the deafening noise in Seattle befuddled the Saints' usually smooth communication on offense last Monday night.

"It was as loud as it could be," Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross said. "I'm actually concerned about hearing loss that I might be getting from that game."
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