Ted Ginn

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

Defense propels Saints past Falcons, into playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore corralled an unusual, momentum-turning interception off his back , New Orleans made two defensive stands from inside its own 2-yard line, and the Saints clinched their first playoff berth since 2013 with a 23-13 victory over the rival Atlanta Falcons.

Ted Ginn caught a 54-yard pass for a touchdown, which came just a few plays after Lattimore’s interception and shortly before halftime. Mark Ingram used a sharp cutback to break loose for a 26-yard touchdown for New Orleans ( 11-4), which kept its tenuous hold on first place in the NFC South heading into the final week of the season.

While the loss eliminated the Falcons (9-6) from the NFC South race, Atlanta can clinch a wild-card berth by beating Carolina in the final regular season game on New Year’s Eve.

The Falcons entered the game with a second straight division crown in their grasp, but they needed to beat the Saints. They squandered chances spectacularly, much to the delight of a deafening Superdome crowd – and certainly to the chagrin of scattered fans wearing Falcons red. The Falcons were taunted on their way to the game by a plane towing a banner that read “28-3 Merry Xmas,” a reference to Atlanta’s Super Bowl collapse.

Atlanta trailed just 6-0 when Lattimore’s interception of Matt Ryan set the Saints up to double their lead.

But early in the third quarter, Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones intercepted a passed that deflected off of Ginn’s hands and returned it 41 yards to the New Orleans 2. But Devonta Freeman fumbled on a hit by Tyeler Davison two plays later and linebacker Manti Teo recovered.

Early in the fourth quarter, Freeman was stopped short on fourth-and-goal from the 1, preserving a 20-3 Saints lead. One play earlier, Julio Jones caught a third-down pass with his feet in the end zone, but he was unable to pull the ball across the goal line after reaching back to make the catch and being quickly driven down. Atlanta challenged the spot, but the call on the field was upheld.

Drew Brees completed 21 of 28 passes for 239 yards. Ginn finished with 76 yards receiving and Michael Thomas – who’d been listed as questionable with a hamstring injury – caught four passes for 66 yards. Brees became only the third quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 70,000 career yards passing, joining Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.

Ryan was 22 of 36 for 288 yards. He was sacked five times, twice by Cameron Jordan.

Jones had seven catches for 149 yards, but the Falcons’ running game struggled.

Freeman was held to just 36 yards on 11 carries.

INJURY REPORT

Falcons: Tight end Levine Toilolo was sidelined by a knee injury in the second half.

Saints: Left tackle Terron Armstead left the game in the second half with a thigh injury.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Finish regular season at home against the Panthers.

Saints: Try to wrap up the division title at Tampa Bay on New Year’s Eve.

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

Follow Brett Martel on Twitter: https://twitter.com/brettmartel

T.J. Ward intercepts Cam Newton and then promptly loses the ball

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After the Broncos extended their lead to 16-7 in the third quarter of Super Bowl 50, the Panthers immediately responded by driving the ball into Denver’s territory.

But they failed to put points on the board thanks to a dropped pass by Ted Ginn Jr.

Cam Newton fired a pass over the middle to Ginn, but the Panthers’ number one receiver watched the ball deflect off of his hands and land in the arms of Broncos safety T.J. Ward.

The play was far from over.

Good thing Danny Trevathan was there to grab the ball.