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Saints hang on to beat Panthers in wild game

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The Saints are heading to Minnesota to play the Vikings after knocking off the Panthers for a third consecutive time.

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

NEW ORLEANS — The Saints are headed to Minnesota to play the Vikings. There was plenty of drama in the Mercedes-Benz Supedome, but somehow the New Orleans Saints were able to escape with a 31-26 victory.

The Saints offense started out slow, while the Panthers looked like the better prepared team in the first quarter. Cam Newton extended plays with his legs, and had the Saints reeling on third down. However, they’d fail to capitalize on capturing the game’s first points after Graham Gano was wide right from 25 yards.

It wouldn’t take the Saints offense long to make them pay, as Drew Brees found Ted Ginn Jr. in stride on a 80-yard catch and run for the game’s first points.

In a crazy turn, it wouldn’t take the Panthers long to get back into the red zone, thanks largely in part to a Ken Crawley 39-yard pass interference call. They’d get on the board with a 27-yard Gano field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3.

The Saints would counter with a drive of their own, finding their groove on offense that led to a Josh Hill 9-yard touchdown reception on a 9-play, 75-yard drive. It wasn’t all gold, however, as starting left guard Andrus Peat would be carted off due to a left leg injury. It was put in an air cast. Still, the Saints led 14-3.

The Panthers offense would answer the Saints with a drive of their own, going 54 yards in 12 plays, but could only get a field goal out of it, as Gano connected from 39 yards to cut the Saints lead to 14-6. Riverboat Ron Rivera went for it on a 4th and Inches and converted.

Drew Brees led his team on another touchdown drive, highlighted by connections to Josh Hill, Michael Thomas, and Brandon Coleman. The 8-play, 75-yard drive ended with a 1-yard Zach Line touchdown plunge. The Panthers would do enough to setup Gano for a 58-yard field goal to close out the half, cutting the Saints lead to 21-9 entering the half.

With the Panthers getting the ball to start the third quarter, it took them two plays to get across midfield. However, the bend and not break defense held Carolina to another Gano field goal to trim the Saints lead to 21-12.

New Orleans would answer, yet again, as they turned in a 10-play, 36-yard drive that was almost a near disaster thanks to an intentional grounding penalty that resulted in a loss of down, and just a little earlier a Brandon Coleman fumble that was recovered by Mark Ingram. Wil Lutz connected from 57 yards out to give the Saints a 24-12 lead.

Fast forward to the final quarter of play, and the Panthers finally got one into the end zone, with Newton finding Greg Olsen for a 14-yard touchdown to cut the Saints lead to 24-19. The Saints offense would fail to capture any of the game’s momentum, but the defense would respond in a big way, thanks to this David Onyemata hit on Newton started by a Tyeler Davison pressure.

It took the Saints 5 plays on the ensuing drive to get into the end zone. A big pass play from Brees to Michael Thomas for 44 yards set this Saints up deep in Panthers territory. Alvin Kamara, who had been fairly quiet most of the day, punched it in from two yards out to put the Saints up 31-19.

It wouldn’t take the Panthers long to answer right back, as Cam Newton found Christian McCaffrey for a 56-yard pass and run to put the game 31-26. The Saints couldn’t run out the clock offensively, and put it on their defense with 1:51 left in the game after the Panthers picked Drew Brees off on fourth down.

The Saints defense finished the Panthers off, forcing Cam Newton to take a bad sack. It was insane, to say the least.