Brees, defensive stand, help Saints survive Panthers, 31-26

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) Drew Brees passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns, and the New Orleans Saints held off Carolina’s late comeback bid to seal a 31-26 victory in their NFC wild-card game on Sunday.

The Panthers had a first down on the Saints 26-yard line with 58 seconds left, but heavy pressure by All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan a couple plays later induced an intentional grounding penalty on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, making it third-and-25 on the Saints 34 and a required 10-second runoff left 22 seconds on the clock.

After an incompletion in the end zone on third down, Vonn Bell sacked Newton on a safety blitz, ensuring the Saints (12-5) swept all three meetings with Carolina (11-6) this season, in addition to winning their first playoff game in four seasons.

“We wanted it more,” Jordan said. “I mean they’ve been to their Super Bowl, let `em go to another one next year. We want our run.”

Brees’ touchdowns went for 80-yards to Ted Ginn and 9 yards to tight end Josh Hill. Fullback Zach Line and running back Alvin Kamara each ran for short touchdowns, the latter set up by Michael Thomas 46-yard reception.

Thomas caught eight passes for 131 yards on a day when the Saints needed the passing game to compensate for a ground game that struggled to get going.

Helped by the presence of tight end Greg Olsen – who did not play in the teams’ previous two meetings – Newton marched Carolina into Saints territory more often than not. But the Panthers stalled four times from inside the New Orleans 25, settling for four field goal attempts on those drives, one of which kicker Graham Gano surprisingly missed.

Olsen had eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. Newton finished 24 of 40 passing for 349 yards and two touchdowns, the other a 56-yard scoring strike to Christian McCaffrey that pulled the Panthers within a touchdown with 4:09 left.

But Newton was also sacked four times, once each by Bell, Jordan, Jonathan Freeney, and David Onyemata. The sack by Onyemata came as Newton tried to spin away from Tyeler Davison and slammed his head into Onyemata’s chest. Newton was checked for a concussion, but missed only one play before returning to the game.

“We had to finish out the game and put it on our defense, put it on me, put it on our secondary, our D-line,” Jordan said. “I mean, everybody responded the way we were supposed to.”

Still, the Panthers were in striking distance for the win after a failed gamble by Saints coach Sean Payton, who elected to keep the offense on the field on fourth-and-short with two minutes remaining. He hoped to run out the clock on Carolina, which was out of timeouts. It backfired when Brees’ pass as he scrambled to his right was intercepted by Adams, giving Carolina the ball at its 31 with 1:51 to go.

“This win is special,” Jordan said. “They came back late in the fourth quarter, made this a game.”

INJURIES

Panthers: Newton missed one play – a failed third-and-long – while being evaluated for a concussion after Onyemata’s sack. Cornerback Daryl Worley briefly was placed in the concussion protocol but also cleared to return during the game.

Saints: Starting left guard Andrus Peat was carted off the field with a left shin injury. His replacement, Senio Kelemete, later needed help off the field for an undisclosed injury.

UP NEXT

Panthers: Begin their offseason.

Saints: Move on to play at Minnesota in the NFC Divisional playoffs.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Newton throws 4 TDs, Panthers spoil Rodgers’ return 31-24

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Cam Newton threw for 242 yards and four touchdowns, and the Carolina Panthers spoiled Aaron Rodgers‘ return from a broken collarbone with a 31-24 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Damiere Byrd had two touchdown catches, and Christian McCaffrey had 136 yards from scrimmage, including a 7-yard touchdown reception and the Panthers (10-4) won their fourth straight home game.

Greg Olsen had his most productive game since returning from a broken foot, catching nine passes for 116 yards and a TD and the Panthers kept pace with the first-place New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.

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Rodgers, making his first appearance since Oct. 15, threw for 290 yards with three touchdowns but was intercepted three times as the Packers’ playoff hopes took a potentially critical blow.

Green Bay (7-7) had a chance to send the game into overtime for a third straight week, but Panthers cornerback James Bradberry stripped wide receiver Geronimo Allison of the ball after a completion at the Carolina 28-yard line with 1:48 remaining. Safety Mike Adams recovered the fumble.

The Panthers trailed 14-10 at halftime, but Newton threw TD passes to Olsen and Byrd in the third quarter to give them a 24-14 lead.

Byrd’s first touchdown, a 9-yard grab in the back of the end zone, came with some controversy. The play was initially ruled an incompletion, but coach Ron Rivera challenged the play and officials overturned the call ruling that Byrd’s backside landed inbounds and overturned the play.

After Green Bay’s field goal cut the Carolina lead to 24-17, Newton found Byrd again on a slant route to make it a two-possession game with 12:29 left in the fourth quarter.

The Panthers started bringing the pressure after that, sack Rodgers three times in the fourth quarter including a takedown by former Packer Julius Peppers on a fourth-and-14 deep in Carolina territory.

But Rodgers struck with a TD pass to Richard Rodgers and the Packers recovered the ensuing onside kick with 2:40 left.

ADAMS CONCUSSION: It didn’t help that Rodgers lost his most productive receiver in the third quarter with a concussion.

Davante Adams took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis on an interception return by Colin Jones. As Adams was running to make the tackle on Jones, Davis appeared to launch himself at Adams with a peel-back block, immediately sending the wide receiver to the ground.

Davis was flagged for a 15-yard penalty.

Davis immediately appeared to know what he had done, cupping his head in hands as he sat on the Panthers bench. Adams had five catches for 57 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers before leaving the game.

COMING IN BUNCHES: After going 12 games without an interception, Panthers starting cornerbacks Bradberry and Daryl Worley both have interceptions in back-to-back games. Worley got Rodgers in the first half on a deep route along the left sideline, while Bradberry got one on an underthrown deep ball.

INJURIES:

Packers: Linebacker Nick Perry left the game with an ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return.

Panthers: Wide receiver Russell Shepard left the game in the second half with a shoulder injury and did not return.

UP NEXT

Packers: Host the Vikings on Saturday night.

Panthers: Host the Buccaneers on Sunday.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Stewart runs for 3 TDs, Panthers beat Vikings 31-24

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jonathan Stewart ran for 103 yards and three touchdowns, and the Carolina Panthers snapped the Minnesota Vikings’ eight-game winning streak with a 31-24 victory Sunday.

Cam Newton threw for 137 yards and a touchdown and ran for 75 yards as the Panthers (9-4) racked up 216 yards on the ground against the league’s No. 2 ranked defense to pull even with the Saints atop the NFC South standings.

Carolina sacked Case Keenum six times and forced three turnovers to keep the Vikings (10-3) from clinching the NFC North division title.

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After the Panthers squandered an 11-point fourth quarter lead, Newton broke free of the pocket and raced 62 yards for a key first down with 2 minutes remaining. Stewart scored his career-high third TD when he jumped over the line of scrimmage, reaching the ball across the goal line for a 31-24 lead.

Minnesota couldn’t manage a first down on its final drive and turned the ball over on downs.

The Panthers seemed in control midway through the fourth quarter leading 24-13 after Newton made an off-balance throw to Devin Funchess for an 18-yard touchdown, and Mario Addison‘s strip-sack set up Graham Gano‘s field goal.

But the Vikings came charging back to tie it as Keenum hooked up on a 52-yard scoring strike on a crossing route. Blake Bell added 2-point conversion catch to cut the lead to three.

On Carolina’s next possession, Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo intercepted Newton on a ball that sailed off the hands of Christian McCaffrey and returned it to the Carolina 6. But Carolina’s defense had a huge stop, holding the Vikings to a field goal leaving the game tied with 3:07 left.

INJURIES:

Vikings: Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur left game with a foot injury and did not return.

Panthers: Tight end Greg Olsen left briefly after re-injuring his foot, but did return.

UP NEXT

Vikings: Host the Bengals next Sunday.

Panthers: Host the Packers next Sunday.

More AP NFL: http://pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL