The New Orleans Saints moved their record to 9-2 on Sunday, inching closer to the NFC South title with a 34-31 win over the Carolina Panthers. It wasn't easy. The Saints raced out to a 14-0 lead and dominated the first quarter. The tables turned in the second quarter, however, when the visiting Panthers came alive and would narrow the score to just 17-15 by halftime. The pesky Panthers would not go away in the second half either. Quarterback Kyle Allen mixed in passes to Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Greg Olsen against heavy pressure to put his squad in position for the upset win. A New Orleans defense that had it's worst outing since a Week 2 loss to the Rams combined with a strong black-and-white striped influence disguised as NFL "referees" also kept Carolina in the game. The Saints persevered though, and now sit at the brink of a third straight division crown. Here were some of the top stars from their hard-fought victory.
Thomas had 10 receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown catch against the Panthers. Those are career high stats for many receivers throughout the NFL, but are almost a weekly occurrence for the young New Orleans star. Three of his four second half receptions resulted in either a first down or touchdown. His 14-Yd catch on the second play of the Saints game-winning drive helped them recover from a difficult second and long situation. Four plays later, Thomas broke open down the right side for a 24 yard catch that positioned New Orleans for what would ultimately be the game clinching score. He now has 104 receptions for 1,242 yards with six touchdowns this season and is on the cusp of one of the greatest years in NFL history for a wide receiver.
Cook's statistical afternoon would have been alot more impressive if his 42-Yd second quarter reception wouldn't have been wiped out thanks to a phantom pass interference penalty called on him. As it was, the tight end still had 6 huge receptions for 99 key yards and a touchdown. His 20 yard touchdown catch on the first drive of the third quarter would widen a narrow New Orleans halftime lead. Later in the third, Cook made a brilliant leaping grab on another 20 yard catch that set up a vital New Orleans touchdown to push their lead to 31-18. Cook's threat down the seam routes and middle of the field would open things up for Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara later in the half. That would prove to be a big key as New Orleans moved into position for their game-winning field goal attempt.
We'll go the classy route here and not award the game ball to Carolina kicker Joey Slye, who missed two extra points and a 28-Yd field goal that kept the game tied for the last Saints drive. Instead, let's be thankful that New Orleans has one of the best clutch kickers in the NFL today. Lutz snuck his 33-Yd kick just inside the right upright to give his team the victory on the final play of the game. It was his 32nd straight successful field goal inside of 40 yards. Lutz has also converted 24 of his last 25 attempts in the fourth quarter, giving his team nearly automatic points with a game on the line.
Brees trotted out on the field with the ball placed at the New Orleans 20-yard line, one timeout in his possession and the game deadlocked at 31 with 1:56 to play. Ten plays and six completions for 62 yards later, he had expertly placed his Saints in position for Lutz's game winning kick. Brees would complete 30 of 39 throws for 311 yards and three touchdowns with an interception in the game, giving him 531 career touchdown passes and edging closer to Peyton Manning's all-time record of 539 touchdowns. He did it in the face of some heavy pressure from Carolina and two reserves on the left side of his offensive line. The 40-Yr old legend also proved that he is still capable of putting the team on his Hall of Fame shoulders when a game is in the balance.
Who had the Saints' most impressive performance in their nail-biter over the Panthers?
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