Six days after beating one NFC South rival, the Saints were called upon to do it again Sunday at home. The Carolina Panthers had owned the Saints at the SuperDome, winning 8 straight there, but this season is different. With a gutsy comeback after trailing early 14-0, the Saints stayed unbeaten with a 30-20 win to move to 8-0.
Carolina scored 14 points in the first 8 minutes and 7 seconds, but then the Saints defense finally started shutting the door on DeAngelo Wiliams and the Panthers run game, and the game shifted. Williams outran the Saints for a 66-yard score one minute in the game, then after a turnover gave Carolina the ball deep in Saints territory, they scored again on Williams 7-yard run to make it 14-0.
The Saints, like two weeks ago vs the Dolphins on the road, rallied. John Carney kicked two second quarter field goals in between one Panthers field goal to make it 17-6. The Saints got right back in it early in the third quarter when after a 63-yard catch and run by Devery Henderson, Pierre Thomas went over from 10 yards out to make it 17-13.
After another Panthers field goal made it 20-13, things got back to even as Brees hit Robert Meachem with a 54-yard score. On their next possession, the Saints started at their 2 and drove 76 yards in 13 plays to go ahead 23-20 on John Carney’s 40-yard field goal with 4:36 left.
Will Smith, who had two sacks, stripped Panthers QB Jake Delhomme on fourth down, and Hargrove recovered to end Carolina’s next series. Four plays later, Saints rookie Malcolm Jenkins dove to stop Thomas Morstead’s punt from going into the end zone, setting up a fumble recovery by Hargrove of Williams, where he took it a yard for a score to end the scoring at 30-20.
“I’m encouraged with the fact that we’ve been able to win a few of these games and we haven’t played our best football,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I don’t know we’re paying a lot of attention to where this (record) at the halfway point compares to past teams. There hadn’t been a real rich history here in regards to successful football.”
“The more that you win games like this, the more confidence that you gain, the more that you feel like no matter what situation that you’re in, you’re going to be able to win the game,” Brees said. “No matter what the deficit, no matter how bad things might have gone, you just feel like you’re going to come back and you’re going to do it.”
Brees went 24-for-35 for 330 yards with a TD and a pick. Meachem had five grabs for 98 yards. The Saints outscored the Panthers 24-3 in the second half, the difference in the game.