Panthers 23, Saints 20, OT

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NEW ORLEANS (AP)—As Stephen Davis goes, so go the Carolina Panthers. And boy, was Davis going on Sunday.

Davis, who was held to 20 yards on 11 carries in the Panthers’ loss to Tennessee last week, was back in form Sunday. He rushed for 178 yards and two touchdowns as Carolina beat the New Orleans Saints 23-20 in overtime.

“We gave them a heavy dose of Stephen,” said Carolina coach John Fox. “He started fast and finished fast.”

Davis has rushed for more than 100 yards five times this season, including 159 in Carolina’s first game against the Saints. His teams are 19-4 when he breaks 100.

Davis had a key 34-yard run in overtime Sunday to set up John Kasay’s 31-yard field goal for the victory that kept the Panthers atop the NFC South.

“He is a great running back and he had a few long runs today,” Saints coach Jim Haslett said. “They do a great job in the running game and that is the thing you have to stop.”

The Panthers (6-1), who have led the division since the opening week, rallied in the closing minutes—only to see the Saints come back to force overtime.

“Things were not going our way,” Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme said. “I couldn’t get a rhythm, but we could run.”

Carolina staged a 58-yard drive, fueled by two pass interference calls and capped by Davis’ second touchdown, a 1-yard dive that put Carolina up 20-17 with 3:45 left.

The Saints (3-5) tied it on a 42-yard field goal by John Carney with 36 seconds to go.

New Orleans won the coin toss in overtime and drove to the Carolina 37 before Deuce McAllister fumbled on fourth-and-1. Then Carolina went 50 yards, with Davis breaking free for 33, and Kasay hit his third field goal of the game.

“We stayed with what we do best,” Davis said. “That’s running the ball.”

Carolina’s loss last week to Tennessee snapped a seven-game winning streak dating to last season. The Panthers’ 10-1 record over the previous 11 games had been the best in the NFL.

Former Saints quarterback Delhomme completed 12 of 27 passes for 148 yards for Carolina. Steve Smith had nine catches for 100 yards.

McAllister had 101 yards rushing for the Saints on 26 carries. Joe Horn had 74 yards and two touchdowns.

It was a typical game for the Panthers and Saints, tight and with defense dominating. Five of the six games between the teams the last three seasons have been decided by a touchdown or less. It was the sixth straight meeting decided in the last two minutes or overtime.

Carolina took a 3-0 lead on Kasay’s 24-yard field goal in the first quarter. And when Aaron Brooks dropped the football behind his back while trying to pass, Dan Morgan recovered, setting up Carolina on the Saints 25. Delhomme completed his first pass of the game, a 22-yarder to Kris Mangum, and two plays later Davis dived over the middle to make it 10-0.

The Saints, after generating just 13 yards in the first quarter, put together a 72-yard drive, capped by a 14-yard pass to Horn to cut the Panthers’ lead to 10-7.

New Orleans took the lead with 1:17 left in the half when Brooks hit Horn again in the end zone, this time a 23-yarder.

Steve Gleason blocked Todd Sauerbrun’s punt and the Saints recovered on the Carolina 29 with 4 seconds left in the half. Carney kicked a 47-yard field goal as time ran out for a 17-10 Saints lead.

Carolina opened the third quarter with a 29-yard field goal by Kasay.

Notes

Davis, who had 108 of his 178 yards at halftime, tied a team record with his fifth 100-yard game of the season. … McAllister’s fifth straight 100-yard performance tied a club record set in 2000 by Ricky Williams. … Panthers OL Tutan Reyes blocked for McAllister when they were teammates at Mississippi … Horn, with catches in 70 straight NFL games, has at least one reception in all 56 games he has played with New Orleans. … Horn, a former high school quarterback, also threw a 14-yard completion to WR Jerome Pathon onthe 72-yard New Orleans scoring drive in the second quarter.

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