Saints-Panthers Three and out

1 WHAT WE LEARNED

The Saints are still the class of the NFC South — by a wide margin. Faced with losing their grip on the division lead for the first time this season, New Orleans ruthlessly beat back a charge from the Carolina Panthers. Winners of eight straight, no one was hotter in the NFL than Carolina. But New Orleans rallied from a slow first quarter with 31 unanswered points to turn this showdown into a rout. Drew Brees rebounded from one of his worst games ever last Monday at Seattle to further embellish his legend, throwing for 313 yards and four touchdowns to go over 50,000 yards for his career.

2 TRENDING NOW

New Orleans’ defensive pressure. Unable to lay hardly a hand on Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson in last Monday’s 34-7 loss to the Seahawks, the Saints hounded Carolina QB Cam Newton all night, never letting him hurt them with his dual-threat talents. Junior Galette and Cam Jordan led a defense that sacked Newton five times, limiting him to 208 yards total offense that included a negligible 48 yards rushing on six carries. Newton’s only touchdown pass — a 17-yarder to Steve Smith on fourth-and-goal with 5:15 left — came after the Saints seized control with the outcome already decided.

3 FINAL THOUGHTS

It seems like every game is a big one for the Saints, but this one truly was. By winning, New Orleans was able to reclaim solo first place in the NFC South and gives the Saints all the meaningful tiebreakers over the still dangerous Panthers. That makes this a landmark win considering they still play Dec. 22 at Carolina. New Orleans can hope against hope Seattle will come back to earth (the Seahawks dropped to 11-2 with a loss Sunday at San Francisco) so that winning out gives the Saints a chance to still capture home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Scott Rabalais