Final

Panthers 44

(7-9, 4-4 away)

Saints 38

(7-9, 4-4 home)

Coverage: FOX

1:00 PM ET, December 30, 2012

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA 

1 2 3 4 T
CAR 3 10 14 1744
NO 0 17 7 1438

Top Performers

Passing: D. Brees (NO) - 396 YDS, 4 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: D. Williams (CAR) - 21 CAR, 210 YDS, 2 TD

Receiving: L. Moore (NO) - 4 REC, 121 YDS

Drew Brees eclipses 5,000-yard mark for record third time in loss

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees and the Saints can hardly wait to get Sean Payton back and move beyond the bounty scandal that overshadowed their worst season in half a decade.

The Panthers rallied for a 44-38 victory on Sunday that dropped the Saints to their first losing season since 2007.

"It's going to be an eye-opener for some people, I'm sure, as it should be, because this is not our standard, what happened this year," Brees said as he spoke of Payton's impending return from his season-long suspension in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation. "Sean's going to come in chomping at the bit and we're going to have to be ready to roll. This offseason can't come fast enough."

DeAngelo Williams rushed for 210 yards, including touchdown runs of 54 and 12 yards, for Carolina (7-9). His 65-yard gain set up the first of three 1-yard scoring runs by Mike Tolbert.

The Panthers trotted to the locker room brimming with hope about 2013 after closing the season winning four straight and five out of six. That finish will reflect well on coach Ron Rivera, who has been answering questions about his job security as his second straight losing season wound down.

"I'm proud of the fact that those guys showed up every day and worked, did the things we asked and did them very well," said Rivera, whose eyes were red after he stood by the locker room door and exchanged hugs with players walking off the field. "This is a good group of men and they deserved this. They deserved the opportunity to win four in a row."

He said he wants to be back and expects to meet with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson in Charlotte in the next couple days.

"Mr. Richardson has been fair and I appreciate the opportunity he has given me, and we will see how things unfold," Rivera said.

Brees passed for 396 yards, giving him 5,177 this season, also third most behind the 2011 totals of himself (5,476) and New England's Tom Brady (5,235). Brees became the first player to eclipse 5,000 yards three times. His four TD passes gave him 43 in 2012, and he's the first player with 40 TD passes in consecutive seasons.

The Saints (7-9) also gave up 530 yards, raising their season total to 7,042 to break the old record of 6,793 allowed by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.

"Totally unacceptable what happened today," said Joe Vitt, who has been serving as interim head coach during Payton's absence. "Very disappointing. There's no way to sugarcoat this."

Payton, who agreed to a five-year contract extension, is expected to return to work after New Orleans hosts the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.

"To have gone through what we went through this year and just to hang tough ... it would have been very easy at times to fracture and not have the togetherness that we had," Brees said. "We just have to believe that what happened this year is going to serve us well in the future."

Carolina has its own reasons to be optimistic about 2013.

Kicker Graham Gano had field goals of 20, 31 and 42 yards. Cam Newton was 16 of 33 for 248 yards.

Newton was intercepted once, but for only the second time in seven games. The interception, returned 18 yards for a touchdown in the first half, was made by linebacker Jonathan Vilma, a central figure in the bounty scandal. Vilma, who the NFL called a ringleader in the Saints' cash-for-hits program, initially was suspended the entire season. He never served a game of that ban after he, defensive end Will Smith, and former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove fought successfully to have their suspensions of various lengths thrown out on appeal.

Leading 24-13, the Saints looked ready to seize control in the third quarter. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen fumbled along the sideline in Carolina territory, and defensive back Johnny Patrick appeared to recover. Initially, the play was blown dead and Olsen ruled down. Vitt challenged the call, and the play was ruled a fumble, but Patrick's right foot was so close to the sideline that referee Al Riveron could not determine if the Saints took possession.

"He didn't get the same angle that we, I guess, had on the Jumbotron," Vitt said, adding he was more upset by his team's mistakes after that pivotal play.

The ball remained with the Panthers, and Williams ran for his long TD soon afterward.

Carolina took a 27-24 lead after converting Brees' 19th interception of the season into Tolbert's second short scoring run. Charles Godfrey picked off an underthrown pass that had Brees ripping at his chin strap in disgust.

Two of Brees' scoring passes went to Marques Colston for 7 and 9 yards. He also hit tight end Jimmy Graham for a 19-yard score and Darren Sproles for a 33-yard TD in the fourth quarter as the Saints, who trailed 41-24 with 8:23 left, nearly mounted a late comeback.

Game notes


Lance Moore had four catches for 121 yards and Graham had nine catches for 115 yards. Moore finished with a career-high 1,041 yards receiving, second on team behind Colston's 1,154. ... Colston had five catches to give him 532, tied for first in franchise history with Eric Martin. ... In the fourth quarter, Newton appeared to injure his lower left leg. It was caught awkwardly under defensive end Turk McBride on a hit shortly after Newton had thrown. Newton returned after missing several plays to complete a touchdown drive.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
CAR
NO
1st Downs2822
Passing 1st downs
1318
Rushing 1st downs
123
1st downs from Penalties
31
3rd down efficiency
10-164-12
4th down efficiency
0-02-2
Total Plays7463
Total Yards530441
Yards per play7.27.0
Total Drives1313
Passing257378
Comp - Att
17-3429-43
Yards per pass
7.68.8
Interceptions thrown
11
Sacks - Yards Lost
1-32-18
Rushing27363
Rushing Attempts
3918
Yards per rush
7.03.5
Red Zone (Made-Att)4-73-3
Penalties4-365-55
Turnovers11
Fumbles lost
00
Interceptions thrown
11
Defensive / Special Teams TDs01
Possession33:5526:05

Passing Leaders

CARC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Newton16/332487.5011-3
Anderson1/11212.0000-0
NOC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Brees29/433969.2412-18

Rushing Leaders

CARCARYDSAVGTDLG
Williams2121010.0265
Newton7344.9016
NOCARYDSAVGTDLG
Ingram10393.9017
Ivory4225.5011

Receiving Leaders

CARRECYDSAVGTDLGTGTS
Smith37324.30319
LaFell56212.40197
NORECYDSAVGTDLGTGTS
Moore412130.30516
Graham911512.812716

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERCARNO
carFG05:41Graham Gano 20 Yd 30
SECOND QUARTERCARNO
carTD08:18Mike Tolbert 1 Yd Run (Graham Gano Kick) 100
noTD05:14Marques Colston 7 Yd Pass From Drew Brees (Garrett Hartley Kick) 107
noTD04:31Jonathan Vilma 18 Yd Interception Return (Garrett Hartley Kick) 1014
carFG00:39Graham Gano 31 Yd 1314
noFG00:00Garrett Hartley 53 Yd 1317
THIRD QUARTERCARNO
noTD10:45Jimmy Graham 19 Yd Pass From Drew Brees (Garrett Hartley Kick) 1324
carTD08:48DeAngelo Williams 54 Yd Run (Graham Gano Kick) 2024
carTD02:29Mike Tolbert 1 Yd Run (Graham Gano Kick) 2724
FOURTH QUARTERCARNO
carTD10:16Mike Tolbert 1 Yd Run (Graham Gano Kick) 3424
carTD08:23DeAngelo Williams 12 Yd Run (Graham Gano Kick) 4124
noTD05:10Marques Colston 9 Yd Pass From Drew Brees (Garrett Hartley Kick) 4131
carFG04:08Graham Gano 42 Yd 4431
noTD02:52Darren Sproles 33 Yd Pass From Drew Brees (Garrett Hartley Kick) 4438

Research Notes

Drew Brees is the first player in NFL history with back-to-back seasons of 40+ passing TD. The only other player with 2 seasons of 40+ pass TD is Dan Marino (1984, 1986)

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