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Carolina Panthers Clinch Playoff Berth, Seize Division Lead with Clutch Win Over New Orleans Saints

December 22nd, 2013 at 8:18 PM
By Jesse Collin

Revenge is sweet for the Carolina Panthers.

Just two weeks after suffering a 31-13 drubbing to the New Orleans Saints (10-5) at the Superdome, the Carolina Panthers (11-4) returned the favor by knocking off their division rival 17-13 at rainy Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.

The win gives Ron Rivera's team sole possession of the NFC South lead. Carolina needs a win at Atlanta next Sunday to secure the division crown, a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game.

'IMG_0295' photo (c) 2011, Parker Anderson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

The momentum shifted often in this back-and-forth game, but it was the Panthers who delivered the final blow to the road-challenged Saints.

Trailing 13-10 with 55 seconds remaining, Cam Newton led the Carolina offense on the decisive five-play, 65-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 14-yard strike to Domenik Hixon.

Newton has repeatedly come up clutch down the stretch, engineering game-winning, fourth-quarter touchdown drives in three of the last six contests.

But the suffocating Panthers defense was the only reason the team was in a position to win at all.

Mike Shula's offense labored against the New Orleans defense for the majority of the game. Carolina struggled to control the clock and convert third downs — two areas the team had excelled in all year.

The disparity in time of possession was glaring, as the Panthers held the ball for just 21:12 to the Saints' 38:48. To boot, the Carolina offense was 0 for 9 on third down.

But Sean McDermott's stingy defense was up to the challenge, sacking Drew Brees a career-high six times and forcing him into two interceptions, the first of which led to a DeAngelo Williams 43-yard touchdown run.

Luke Kuechly set a franchise record with 24 tackles — one shy of Brian Urlacher's NFL record.

The only bad news for the Panthers — Steve Smith left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. The veteran wideout tried to return to the game, but couldn't go.

He is scheduled for an MRI tomorrow.

Watch below to see postgame interviews from the Panthers locker room:

Game Notes:

  • Cam Newton finished 13-of-22 passing for 181 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
  • DeAngelo Williams led the Panthers with 12 carries for 67 yards — 43 of which came on a touchdown run in the second quarter.
  • Ted Ginn led the team with 66 yards receiving on two catches.
  • Defensive end Greg Hardy tallied three of the Panthers' six sacks. Quintin Mikell and Captain Munnerlyn also recorded a sack each.
  • Linebackers Luke Kuechly (24 tackles) and Thomas Davis (14 tackles) combined for an eye-popping 38 tackles. Each also recorded an interception.
  • Drew Brees finished 30-of-44 passing for 281 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
  • Mark Ingram led all rushers with 83 yards on 13 carries.
  • Jimmy Graham (five receptions, 73 yards) scored the Saints lone touchdown on a five-yard pass in the fourth quarter.
  • Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro was carted off the field in the second quarter with a leg injury.
  • The Panthers will head to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. Depending on what happens next weekend, Ron Rivera's team could finish as the No. 1, No. 2, No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the NFC.

Also…

 
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Tags: Cam Newton, Carolina, Carolina Panthers, DeAngelo Williams, Domenik Hixon, Drew Brees, Football, Greg Hardy, Luke Kuechly, NFL, Ron Rivera, Steve Smith, Ted Ginn, Thomas Davis

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