Cam Newton key to Panthers playoffs hopes vs. Saints

Cam Newton runs for a first down vs the Buffalo Bills

"And certainly these are the memories you hang on to", Brees said after having his best performance of the season in the biggest moment to date - 376 yards and two touchdowns in New Orleans' way-too-close-for-comfort 31-26 wild-card victory over the Carolina Panthers.

The Saints beat Carolina for the third time this season and punched their ticket to Minnesota for the divisional round.

Up until that point, Brees had put together a strong performance that got going late in the first quarter when he found Ted Ginn down the field for an 80-yard touchdown pass. "I told him (Newton) I was coming all game". Placekicker Graham Gano could have given the Panthers an early lead, but he missed a 25-yard field goal, just his second missed field goal this season.

Then again, Gano made a 58-yarder at the end of the first half.

Saints: Starting left guard Andrus Peat was carted off the field with a broken left fibula. He had to be carted off with his left leg immobilized. They will meet in the Wild Card Round of the National Football League playoffs on Sunday, with the game beginning at 4:40 p.m. ET on FOX (live streaming available via Fox Sports GO and FuboTV).

Brees followed the Ginn TD by completing 7 of 7 passes for 77 yards and a 9-yard TD pass to tight end Josh Hill on the next drive.

New Orleans will now deploy its multifaceted attack against Minnesota's vaunted D. Carolina, meanwhile, ends the season with a sense of what could have been. I definitely think it hurts with the communication in the huddle, it hurts with formations. Fullback Zach line and running back Alvin Kamara each ran for short touchdowns, the latter set up by Michael Thomas 46-yard reception.

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As Payton discussed the most striking aspects of the Saints' evolution this season, he began by highlighting "the amount of guys we've had to replace and the new faces that are stepping up".

The contributions from such players have been "the most encouraging thing", Payton said, adding that "the resiliency and the fight" of his team "is something that's great to be around".

With two minutes left in the game, the Saints almost threw it away.

Newton was pressured the most in the fourth quarter.

NOTES: Reggie Bush led members of the Saints' Super Bowl XLIV team onto the field just before the kickoff.

Newton threw for 349 yards, his second highest total of the year, including a 56-yard touchdown pass to running back Christian McCaffrey that brought the Panthers within five with 4:09 to go. The rookie is a dual threat, with over 1500 combined rushing and receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.

Newton was flagged when he avoided defensive end Cam Jordan's rush by throwing the ball out of bounds, turning what would have been a second-and-10 into a third-and-23. "We held them in the red zone and we won the game". Two plays later, Kamara scored from the 2, putting New Orleans up 31-19 with 5:08 left.

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