CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Former LSU wide receiver Brandon LaFell enjoyed one of the better all-around games of his NFL career Sunday in the Carolina Panthers’ 35-27 win over the New Orleans Saints.
LaFell, a third-round draft pick of the Panthers in 2010, hurt the Saints with six catches for 90 yards and also had a 25-yard run on a reverse in the first half. The six receptions tied his career high and the receiving yardage was the third-highest of his three-year career.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound LaFell had key plays on three touchdown drives that helped the Panthers turn a 13-7 deficit in the first half into a 28-13 advantage with 8:17 left in the third quarter.
“(LaFell) showed what he is capable of,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said, “and those types of plays that he makes, the consistency with which he is making them, is really helping us.”
LaFell said it was special to beat the Saints for the first time in his career.
“All (Saturday) and this morning I was getting text messages from old teammates and old friends I went to college with,” LaFell said. “ ‘The Saints are going to whoop y’all. “They said, ‘We’re pulling for you, but overall, we’re pulling for the Saints.’ ”
Saints kicker Garrett Hartley, who missed the entire 2011 season with a hip injury, booted a career-long 53-yard field goal in the loss to the Panthers.
His field goal, which extended the Saints’ lead to 13-7 midway through the second quarter, was only his fourth attempt from 50 yards and out in his five-year career. He’s made three of them.
Hartley’s previous long kick was 52 yards, which came in a 17-14 win over the Atlanta Falcons in 2010.
Moving the chains
The Saints, who converted on just 2 of 11 third-down opportunities in a season-opening loss to the Washington Redskins, were 3-for-3 on their 80-yard touchdown drive to start the game against the Panthers.
The first two came in third-and-3 situations, while the final one came on Jimmy Graham’s 1-yard touchdown catch on third and goal.
For the game, the Saints were 7 of 13 for 53.8 percent.
Drew Brees’ early touchdown pass to Graham marked the 45th consecutive regular-season game that Brees has had at least one scoring toss.
That leaves Brees just two games shy or equaling Johnny Unitas’ all-time NFL record of a touchdown pass in 47 straight games.
The Saints inactives were WR Devery Henderson (concussion), DE Turk McBride (ankle), CB Johnny Patrick (thigh), RB Chris Ivory, RB Travaris Cadet, DT Tyrunn Walker and T Bryce Harris.
The only inactives of note for the Panthers were G Mike Pollak (shoulder) and DT Frank Kearse (illness).
Brees limps off
Brees had his left ankle rolled up while being taken down by Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy in the third quarter, but returned to the game on the next series after getting re-taped by trainer Scottie Patton.
“It’s fine, it just got rolled up on kind of in an awkward position,” Brees said. “It’ll be fine.”
With 31 completions Sunday, Brees extended his streak with at least 20 completions to 38 straight games. … Graham now has a touchdown catch in seven consecutive games counting the 2011 playoffs. … Rookie defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, the Saints’ top draft pick, made his NFL debut after being inactive against the Redskins. He had one tackle and a quarterback hurry.