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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

Winston throws late TD pass, Buccaneers beat Saints 31-24

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Jameis Winston threw for 363 yards, including a 39-yard scoring pass to Chris Godwin with nine seconds remaining, to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers snap a five-game losing streak with a 31-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

The playoff-bound Saints (11-5) entered the day hoping to clinch their first NFC South championship in six years. They wound up winning the title anyway, with Carolina (11-5) losing its regular season finale at Atlanta.

Trailing 24-23 with 1:58 remaining, Winston moved the Bucs (5-11) 95 yards in 11 plays for the winning TD.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

He converted a fourth-and-10 from his own 5 yard line with a 12-yard completion to Cameron Brate and threw 9 yards to Mike Evans on third-and-1 to keep the drive going at the Tampa Bay 35.

The fourth-year pro, who was intercepted three times, found Godwin racing up the right sideline just ahead of Saints cornerback Ken Crawley to put the Bucs ahead for good.

Alvin Kamara scored on a 106-yard kickoff return and had a second touchdown rushing for the Saints, who took a 24-20 lead midway through the fourth quarter when Zach Line caught a 3-yard TD pass from Drew Brees.

Patrick Murray, whose missed an extra point in the second quarter was the difference on the scoreboard when Winston launched the winning drive, made a 42-yard field goal to help the Bucs pull within 24-23 with four minutes left.

Kamara, who’s teamed with Mark Ingram to give New Orleans the only tandem in NFL history 1,500-plus scrimmage yards and more than 10 TDs in the same season, wiped out an early 7-0 deficit with his kickoff return.

The rookie’s 7-yard TD run on the Saints’ first offensive possession made it 14-7.

The touchdowns were the 13th and 14th of the season for Kamara, who has eight rushing and five receiving in addition to the second 100 yard-plus kickoff return for a TD allowed by Tampa Bay in two weeks.

Winston led a pair of 75-yard scoring drives in the opening half, but was also intercepted twice before halftime.

Brees turned one of the mistakes into the Saints’ first touchdown, throwing 43 yards to Michael Thomas to set up Kamara’s TD run that finished a 65-yard drive. The New Orleans finished 22 of 30 for 245 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Godwin has seven receptions for 111 yards. Adam Humphries had seven catches for 102 yards.

INJURIES

Saints: None reported during the game.

Buccaneers: S T.J. Ward left with a knee injury and did not play in the second half. … T Caleb Benenoch injured an ankle during the first half but returned. He limped off for good a sore knee in the second half.

UP NEXT

Saints: First playoff appearance since 2013.

Buccaneers: Coach Dirk Koetter, who’s 13-18, was told before the finale that he will return for a third season.

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