The New Orleans Saints rang in the New Year and the end of the 2011 regular season in fine style yesterday with a 45-17 de-clawing of the Carolina Panthers. The team set, tied, and extended numerous franchise, league, team and individual records while earning their 13th win and locking themselves into the 3rd seed in the NFC playoffs, which has them hosting the Detroit Lions on Saturday night.
Make the jump for all the post-game coverage, including story links, stats, quotes, and videos...
Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints | ESPN.com
ESPN GameHQ - Includes recap, statistics, drive charts, play-by-play, photos, and video highlights.
Saints Dominate Panthers, 45-17, in Regular Season Finale | neworleanssaints.com
Saints finish undefeated at home (8-0) for the first time in team history and tie their best overall record at 13-3
Photo Gallery: Saints 45, Panthers 17 | NOLA.com
252 photos for your perusal.
From the Saints Sideline
Saints defense contains Newton, Panthers offense | wwltv.com
Bradley Handwerger - Carolina came into Sunday’s game in the Superdome having scored at least 27 points in four of the previous five games. The Saints made it four in the final six.
Saints gear up for playoffs with rout of Panthers | The Advocate
Sheldon Mickles - Just going to the playoffs wasn’t enough for New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton. (Includes game photos.)
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram will miss playoffs because of toe injury | NOLA.com
James Varney - Jimmy Graham, Patriots' Rob Gronkowski rewrite record books.
Saints playing at video game levels heading into playoffs | wwltv.com
Bradley Handwerger - Carl Nicks sat at his locker in the Saints’ Superdome locker room Sunday, not long after New Orleans put a 45-17 licking on Carolina, pondering the thought of being a part of such a record-breaking offense.
New Orleans Saints drawing comparisons to Super Bowl XLIV team | NOLA.com
Peter Finney - But these Saints are no Cinderella.
New Orleans Saints take different approach, pound Carolina Panthers 45-17 | NOLA.com
Mike Triplett - Saints on eight-game roll as they prepare to host Detroit Lions.
Spinning the records | The Advocate
Brian Allee-Walsh - The old adage is “records are made to be broken.’’ The New Orleans Saints apparently took it to heart this season, becoming the NFL’s new and improved “Greatest Show on Turf.’’
Saints blow by NFL, franchise records in 13-3 season | wwltv.com
Bradley Handwerger - The Saints entered Sunday on the cusp of greatness. The left the Superdome flying way past it.
Brees solidifies records | The Advocate
Sheldon Mickles - Six days after breaking the NFL single-season record for passing yards, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees made sure he held on to it.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' records set on Sunday | NOLA.com
Kevin Spain - Another big day for the quarterback.
New Orleans Saints individual records - not including quarterback Drew Brees | NOLA.com
Kevin Spain - Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles had big games.
Saints Postgame Notes | neworleanssaints.com
Wrap-up: Saints 45, Panthers 17 - NFC South Blog | ESPN.com
Pat Y. - Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 45-17 victory against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Panthers end season in rout at New Orleans | CharlotteObserver.com
Joe Person - Throughout Ron Rivera's first season, the Panthers applied bandages to an ailing defense that lost starters the way kids lose Lego pieces.
At 6-10, Panthers keep hope alive | CharlotteObserver.com
Scott Fowler - What the Carolina Panthers lacked in wins during the first year of the Cam Newton era, they made up for in hope.
Cam Newton ends spectacular rookie season with so-so performance against New Orleans Saints | NOLA.com
Bob Marshall - Carolina Panthers coach says team 'has to catch up' to him.
Cam Newton: Finale a beginning, not an end | CharlotteObserver.com
Ron Green, Jr. - Cam Newton will have plenty of time to appreciate all he accomplished in his record-setting rookie season with the Panthers, but Sunday afternoon wasn't that time.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS COACH SEAN PAYTON
"First off, it was an important win for us. We talked about, going in to the week, finding a way to get to 13 wins. That is significant when you consider how hard that is. I thought we handled the schedule well this week and the challenges coming in. There, obviously, at the end of the season like this, are some distractions. I thought our approach was the right one. I was pleased with how we played and how we finished. A lot of guys got to play. I thought we got the stops necessary as the game went on defensively. Obviously, offensively, we made a number of big plays that opened up the lead. That is a real good team we played, a team that is much improved and certainly pointed in the right direction. There are a lot of scenarios that are unfolding as we are sitting here. We will know shortly the ‘who' and the ‘when.'"
(on deciding to play starters today) "You don't know how the game is going to unfold. We just wanted to be sharp. We wanted to build a little bit of momentum that we feel like we have had. I talked about improvement in some areas. I thought that the third down numbers were important. The rushing numbers were important. All of those things."
(on breaking a number of records today) "I am not real familiar with the numbers. A lot of guys played a lot of parts. What is most important is winning. You start with the offensive line and their representation going in to the Pro Bowl and a number of the skill players. There are a lot of unselfish guys that put the team first. To coach them is a pleasure and an honor for me."
(on trying to get players a record if they were close) "In Darren's (Sproles) case, it is pretty significant so we were mindful of that. I'm not sure how Jimmy (Graham) finished. We just wanted to be smart and handle the game the right way. Sometimes, that is not always that easy."
(on breaking single-season total yards record) "I wasn't aware of it. I don't know what our totals were. It gets down to execution and repetition of doing things the right way. We understand from here on out that we are in an important mode in regards to having to win each game. Those kinds of things will probably mean more 10 or 15 years from now than currently."
(on change from 2009) "Well, in 2009, we just lost to Carolina. It's a different team. We are excited for the opportunity that's ahead. We recognize the challenge of being in the post-season. This is what you work hard for. This is why you prepare and do all of the things that you do to hopefully get in to a position like this. I would say similar as you enter the post-season."
(on halftime adjustments) "It started off with that volley, back and forth. Eventually, we began to slow them and then the game began to separate. There were two or three series right in a row where we were able to force them to punt. With how we were scoring, that made the difference. I thought it was a good, complimentary game. I thought our kicking game did a good job. We were close on a return with Darren. It was a good team win."
(on Chris Ivory and the running game) "He had some good, physical yards. He probably had his best game of the season. We think it is an important element to what we do. We think it's an area that we wanted to improve on. I think that we have been able to do that. It allows you to do some things in regards to control games, manage the clock, and do a lot of other things that are important to winning football games. The guys up front did a really good job."
(on the balance) "It helps you do what you want to do as a team. Not only offensively, but defensively. We played some of our better football and we have been able to have that balance."
(on if Robert Meachem left with an injury) "Yes but I don't think it is significant. He bruised his knee and we took him in. I think he will be fine."
(on guys getting a chance to play today) "A lot of guys got to play. We sat Malcolm (Jenkins) and we sat Jon Vilma. Those guys probably would have been able to play but I wanted to be smart."
(on if this is the most unselfish team he has coached) "I would say it certainly is one of them. We have been lucky and fortunate to ID and evaluate the right type of guys that come in here with the idea that winning and the team is the most important for us. That has happened here a handful of years. It makes it fun to go to work. I know it is enjoyable for our owner, enjoyable for our general manager, and everyone in the organization. You are proud of those guys. This, certainly, is one of those teams
(on finishing undefeated in the Superdome) "The momentum. The feeling is that we are still anxious to improve some things each week. That challenge, another turnover that Patrick had today was a significant one. It's just that race to improve and get better. The guys have done a really good job."
(on the potential playoff match-ups) "Each team would be different. If we have about three or four more questions here, we are going to know who it is. The teams that we are discussing, whether it's Atlanta or Detroit, have had really good seasons. They both pose tremendous challenges. Both of them are very good football teams and put themselves in this position to play in the post-season. We try to take that focus as much on us and our preparation as anything else."
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS PLAYERS
QB #9 DREW BREES
"We remembered last year all too well, that last game of the season, just feeling like we didn't make progress in that last game. We were in a situation (last year) similar to what we were this year, where something else has to happen in order for you to (get a bye into the divisional round). Otherwise, we were locked in at a certain seed. Last year, it was like we were dipping our toe in the water, we were scoreboard watching, some guys were playing ‘x' amount of time. Enough of that. You obviously saw the result last year, and obviously we didn't feel like we came out and played well or carried that momentum into the playoffs. As we looked at this time around, we said, you know what? Let's finish strong, the significance of the 13-win season, the chance to bump up to a (No.) 2 seed had (San Francisco) lost today. Other than that, continue to progress, continue to move forward, continue to get better as we make this run to the playoffs.
(got almost everything you wanted out of today?) "It was everything that we hoped for today. Obviously, we wanted the win; we wanted the 13-win season. For Sproles to get the all-purpose single-season yardage record, for Jimmy (Graham) to get the tight end receiving record (Graham broke Kellen Winslow's record but was passed moments later by New England's Rob Gronkowski). There's a ton of records. It was pretty significant. Obviously, last Monday night was a special moment. Today, you just look around and said, I don't know if any of us will be a part of something like this again. Just having so many guys and obviously the whole team, what was it, 15 or 16 (NFL) records that were set or extended today. That's pretty remarkable.
(compare feelings of 2009 to now) "The journey through the playoffs is going to be a little different. Both were 13-3 teams. Obviously, in '09 we started off 13-0 and lost the next three, but we had a plan the whole time. We knew we were going to rest our starters in (Week 17) because we had secured the (No.) 1 seed; it was all about getting guys healthy. I feel like we're healthier now at this point. Although we had the benefit of the first-round bye in '09, we don't this time. This will more than likely be a short week, playing on Saturday. I feel like we are playing as well as we've played all season long right now. The last few weeks have showed that. In every phase - offense, defense, special teams, run game, pass game, you name it. The last two weeks have been really special with these records and everything else. Obviously, that's something we didn't experience in '09. The real season starts now. You just kind of map out a plan for what's ahead. The most important thing - nothing else matters past this coming Saturday. Whoever we're playing - Atlanta, Detroit - it doesn't matter. It's a faceless opponent. We have to continue to progress and get better. All of our goals and dreams and aspirations are right there in front of us.
(on running game) "That's obviously a huge difference from last year to this year - having a healthy Chris Ivory and Sproles and Pierre Thomas. Mark Ingram will be coming back. You've got all these guys that have pretty special skill sets and the ability to mix it up with those guys. The emphasis we've put on the run game, especially in the last half of the season here. You've got to credit the guys up front. They're doing a phenomenal job of balancing ... the run, the pass, shots, dropback, all those things. I just think every facet of our offense is clicking right now, but yet you constantly find ways to advance it.
(MVP serve as motivation?) "What motivates me is my team and the opportunity we have, just bring grateful for all the positive things my life, positive people in my life, that have helped to get me here and all of us here. We've been on this journey before. We know the feeling of winning a Super Bowl. There's nothing like it. Each year's a new year; each team's a new team. You re-establish your identity every year, no matter how many people you have coming back. So really for us, it's all about that ultimate prize. All that stuff along the way, it's special; we can reflect on that for years and years. You play this game for championships, for rings.
"I think we knew '09 was special, especially when we went on that 13-0 run. None of us had ever been a part of something like that. There's a lot of things this year that none of us have been a part of, some things that weren't even on the radar. Yet here we are having accomplished so much, yet the ultimate prize is still out there. Now it's within our grasp if we do all the things we need to do in order to get there. It's just one day at a time. We know the opportunity's there.
"You learn from experience. What we experienced last year was the way we (played) last year didn't work for us. It may work for others, but it didn't work for us. We took a much different approach this year. It showed out there today. We played a good football team today, a team that's won five of their last six and really has been rolling. It's never easy. It's difficult to put up 600 yards and 45 points, just to do it play by play. We've raised the bar for ourselves. We have a high level of expectation and we're just trying to meet that level.
(at what moment in '09 did you realize you could win?) "Moreso than that, in '09, it was OK, we play the 16-game season in order to get yourself in a position to make a run in the playoffs, but once the playoffs start, it's a new season. You watch every year, why has the (No.) 6 seed gone and won so many championships here in the last 10 years? They're the ones who the curve is going up for them in the playoffs and they make the run. Once you get to that point, it doesn't matter how you got there, it's how you're playing now, and what direction are you headed? For us, I feel like we're playing some of our best football right now. This is where we wanted to be. In '09, we had lost those last three, but we were banged up. Forget what everybody else is saying, because the media and everyone else was killing us, about which team is showing up, but we knew we needed to get healthy. For those two weeks, it was about getting healthy and coming up with a great plan for Arizona. We came out and beat them 45-14. For us now, we're rolling, we want to keep it rolling, but it's a quick turnaround. There's no time to sit and enjoy anything, because we've got to keep it going.
(on Jimmy Graham's drive for a Super Bowl ring) "He's a special guy. As young as he is, you just feel like there's a wisdom there with him that's pretty rare for a guy that young. It's a product of everything he's overcome in his life. Just kind of having an attitude of gratitude for everything. The opportunity he has now, and being a part of this team, and having so many good people around him. There's just a fire within this guy that burns. He is competitive, he wants to be great, and he wants to be a part of something special. He's not a guy that looks too far ahead or takes it for granted. He just relishes the moment. There's not a guy that wants (a ring) more than him right now. I can tell you that much.
(on Darren Sproles) "That's another guy that I couldn't be happier for, and I take full credit ... I'm just kidding. Sproles is another one of those guys that I'm not sure there's anyone else like him. To watch his journey from San Diego to here, us sharing his rookie year together in '05, I think he was drafted in the fourth or fifth round. Where do you put him? What do you do with him? He walks in the room and you're stunned at the size and the stature. This is a game for big, strong, fast guys, and you just say, ‘This guy doesn't belong.' But he does. He more than belongs. No situation is too big for Sprolesy. It's like he's prepared for this his whole life. Even after breaking the record, you would have thought that's what he had planned to do the whole time, the minute he stepped foot in our building. That's what I love about him. There's not a guy that works harder than him at practice, that practices harder than him, that approaches this game with a bigger level of pride than him. He's got a big heart, and that's all that matters.
LB #58 SCOTT SHANLE
(on how they approached the week) "It's too tough to play in this league to be unsure of anything. We had to get ourselves mentally ready once we knew how we were going to approach this week. I definitely think we took the right approach. We wanted to be playing our best football heading into the postseason."
(on the momentum heading into the postseason) "Two years ago, we kind of head that crisis situation to end the season. This year it was early in the season against St. Louis. I think since that game we've gotten better each week. It feels good to be peaking right now, but we have a whole new season ahead of us. We'll have to out this season behind us and get ready for the new season."
WR #12 MARQUES COLSTON
(on his touchdown catch in the back of the end zone) "Drew (Brees) audibled at the line of scrimmage and I had a feeling it was going to come to me. I was one on one with the linebacker. It's just a connection that we have. He put it in a place where only I could get it and I went after it and got it."
(on if he was surprised being that wide open) "Yeah, it's really all on Drew surveying the defense. He keeps us in the right play calls and that was just another example of it."
S #41 ROMAN HARPER
(on the defense's play) "The first couple of series they came out with some new stuff and some trick stuff. They were trying to keep us off balance. They have done a good job of that all year long. You look at their first 15 or 20 plays and they are scoring two or three touchdowns every time. After that, you kind of settle in to what they are doing. We got it going today. With the way our offense is playing, it puts a lot of pressure on other offenses to keep up. We had them having to throw a lot and that get us in a position to blitz and do what we like to do. We did a great job of mixing up some coverages."
(on the win) "It was huge. That's one of the main reasons we wanted to play our starters the whole time. We wanted to go out there and continue to roll. It was great to be the first undefeated team at home in Saints history. We broke a lot of records today. Now, we have to keep this train rolling. We played really well offensively and defensively we got after the quarterback."
TE #80 JIMMY GRAHAM
(on Rob Gronkowski passing him for the receiving record) "That's fine. I guess records are meant to be broken. That might be a record. Records are nice, but I'm just focused on the ring, which I've never gotten before. I just want to keep grinding and winning. I just want to keep getting better and taking it one snap at a time."
T #64 ZACH STRIEF
(on the amount of time Drew Brees had in the pocket) "I think a lot contributes to it. They were pretty banged up on the line. They had some late additions out there. Charles Johnson wasn't playing. On top of that, I think the offense is clicking. We ran the ball really well. The play action is working and it is really messing with the pass rushes. It's hard to know how to come off the ball. That's been the case the last few weeks."
(on the health of the running backs) "I think our personnel department deserves a lot of credit. Last season we were getting guys in the locker room on Wednesday and they were playing on Sunday. It's tough. It helps to have all of those guys healthy and fresh. (Darren) Sproles is averaging over seven yards per carry, but is only running it 10 times a game. So, he's feeling good. It's a huge advantage to us and a big part of what we do on offense."
CAROLINA PANTHERS COACH RON RIVERA
(on how the team fell behind in the second half) "It takes the wind out of your sail for them to come out and do what they did and for us to blow the coverage (at the end of the half). (We) allowed a receiver (to get) behind us in the two minute drill with 17 seconds left. That can't happen. That is unacceptable."
(on the blown coverage) "The quarterback (Brees) started to move around and we got a little nosy. The truth of the matter is that when the quarterback starts to move around, you need to (stay deeper a little more). It's an experience thing. There's a young guy out there in his second season. He got a little bit nosy. The truth of the matter is that when the quarterback scrambles, you (want to) deepen (the coverage). You're a deep-outside player, you want to keep everything in front of you."
(on the Saints) "That's a playoff-caliber football team that did that to us today."
(on playing without key defensive players) "It was really disappointing, especially the way that they ran the ball more so than anything else. They were able to do some things that we hadn't allowed the last five weeks. That's what was disappointing. I thought that if we were going to do anything, make them one-dimensional. I'm not sure if that's a good thing either, because they can throw the ball well. We should not have allowed that type of running game. Hats off to them and their offensive line."
(on Saints running game) "They ran the ball very well. They mixed it up very nicely and broke some tackles. It goes back to what their offensive line was doing up front. They were making some holes."
(on message to the team) "We talked about the whole season. The message was that everything we do from here on out is all about next year. It's about that first NFL Sunday in September. We'll have our meeting tomorrow and I will give them the last final message. Then, they will be off."
(on message to Cam Newton) "I don't think that I necessarily need to give him a message. I think that he understands exactly what he needs to do. He's special. The truth of the matter is that there are certain instances and certain areas that we (as a team and staff) have to catch up. We can be a very, very good football team. That's just it. I really believe that. We, as a group, need to grow to become a complete team"
(on the Saints) "We caught a football team that is on a roll right now. When you put the tape on and watch how they played against Atlanta and watch how they played against us and the first thing that you say to yourself is, "I hope that we don't have to play them." That's what's going to happen. Whoever is playing them is playing a very good football team on a hot roll right now. They are going to have a lot of momentum going forward."
CAROLINA PANTHERS PLAYERS
Quarterback Cam Newton
"I have to work hard both mentally and physically to be a better quarterback. But for us today, it was embarrassing how we ended that game. Offense, defense, special teams, the whole nine yards, it was real tough."
"It's still a learning process for me. I mean I learned so much the entire season. I can do so many things better. I have so much respect for this league that a lot of people don't understand what it takes to be a player in the National Football League - let alone the quarterback."
(On his first half interception) "We were all the way down there below the five yard line about to score. The play we called was for Steve Smith. We were trying to get him open as we saw on film that the Saints use a lot of help off the safeties. And Steve is such a presence out there and that's a good and bad thing. And I threw it up there and their safety broke on the ball quick. I was thought to throw it to his (Smiths') initial move. But them Steve broke the other way and the ball was already in the air and that was it. Again we were all the way down there and about to score and we didn't. And you can't let that happen against the type of good team we played today."
Cornerback R.J. Stanford
"It was definitely a challenge for us out there today but the bottom line was we just didn't play very well. The only thing we did do well defensively was stop them on the interception. But the Saints are a high powered offense and we just didn't stop them today; especially in the second half."
Wide Receiver Steve Smith
"We took their best shot and gave it a try. But its all about how you finish and that's something we just didn't do today. Time will tell for us. We have a lot of young guys on this team and now it's all about how hard we work in the off season and our attitude when we come back for training camp next year. "
"Today was a real tough day. I thought all of us here in the locker room really worked hard the last five games and we saw the results on the field. It's all about how hard you prepare and work. So today's loss was real tough to take from a great team."
Tight End Jeremy Shockey
"We are definitely a better team than we showed today. We tried our best but the Saints were the better team today. So my hats off to them and even I expect good things from them in the playoffs."
"Anytime you play a divisional opponent in the NFC South it's always a tough game. There's always a lot at stake and it's always about how you start the game. I think we did great in the first half."
"Of course it was a little odd to come back here and play. But hey, they've moved on, I've moved on - and that's what this league is all about. It's just how it is; you move onto the next team and the next game."
Running Back Jonathan Stewart
"We can't use the injuries we had over the year as an excuse. We have a lot of quality players on this football team and we have to work hard in the off-season to come back and have a better season next year."
Wild Card Warmup
Wild card and second round playoff schedules | wwltv.com
Official release - Saints play Saturday opening week, and then Saturday again if they beat Detroit.
New Orleans Saints to play Detroit Lions on Saturday night | NOLA.com
Game scheduled for 7 p.m. kickoff.
Saints ready for playoff game vs. Detroit | The Advocate
Sheldon Mickles - Going into Sunday’s regular-season finale, it was almost a given that the New Orleans Saints were going to have a rematch in the NFC wild-card playoff round with one of the teams they beat this season.
Quick Take: Lions at Saints - NFC South Blog | ESPN.com
Pat Y. - Three things to know about next weekend's New Orleans Saints-Detroit Lions wild-card game.
V-Roll Roll Call
Video: Saints Postgame Press Conference | neworleanssaints.com
Saints media page also includes game highlight videos.