Nfl Street



Nfl Street

NFL Football :New Orleans Saints Vs Carolina Panthers

With 11:19 remaining and the score tied at 20 on Sunday at the Superdome,  New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees stood in the Girod Street end zone,  head down,  away from his five offensive linemen who hovered nearby.

saints-defense2.jpgScott Threlkeld/The Times-PicayuneIt’s hats off to the New Orleans Saints’ defense as Carolina Panthers running back Tyrell Sutton is stacked up during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 30-20 victory at the Superdome. After falling behind by two touchdowns early, the defense allowed just six points in the final three quarters. On the Saints’ sideline,  Coach Sean Payton huddled with wide receivers Marques Colston and Devery Henderson,  tight end David Thomas and running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas.

Ninety-eight yards and the begrudging Carolina Panthers stood between the Saints and the go-ahead score.

“We all knew what we had to do, ” Pierre Thomas said. “We said,  ‘Let’s take it 98 yards,  let’s take it all the way and keep this thing going.’ “

The Saints fell short of their goal,  but “this thing, ” as Thomas calls it,  remains alive and kicking.

The Black and Gold drove 76 yards to the Panthers’ 22,  where John Carney kicked a 40-yard field goal for a 23-20 lead with 4:36 remaining. A few minutes later,  defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove put the game out of reach with a 1-yard scoop-and-score touchdown on a recovered fumble en route to a 30-20 come-from-behind victory before a deafening sellout crowd of 70,011.

The NFC South leaders improved to 8-0 and stayed a game ahead of the Minnesota Vikings (7-1) in the race for home-field advantage in the NFC.

In the process,  the Saints established a franchise benchmark with an 8-0 start,  besting the 7-0 start by the 1991 team under Coach Jim Mora.

“Man,  1991 is a long time ago, ” Hargrove said. “I was 8 years old,  in foster care in Queens (N.Y.). I remember my third grade teacher was Miss Schneider, but I didn’t know nothing about the Saints.

“8-0,  huh? A franchise record? I ain’t never been 8-0 before. This is awesome. This is crazy.”

And it has the potential to get crazier and crazier with road games against the lowly St. Louis Rams (1-7) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-7) the next two weeks.

For those keeping score at home,  back-to-back wins against the Bucs and Rams would make the Saints 10-0 going into their nationally televised Monday night encounter against the New England Patriots on Nov. 30 at the Superdome.

Crazy? Now that would be crazy.

“Eight-and-0 is nice, ” Saints free safety Darren Sharper said. “But we’d rather go for the big 19-0. That is our ultimate goal.”

“Going 16-0 and finishing the regular season would be great,  but we want to win the division and get home-field advantage, ” Saints defensive end Will Smith said. “The only thing this win today guarantees us is 8-8. That’s all.”

Unlike the Saints’ first five victories  —  games in which they never trailed  —  Sunday’s victory was in doubt from the outset.

The Panthers racked up two touchdowns in the first eight minutes and seven seconds,  thanks to scoring runs of 66 and 7 yards by Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams,  a punishing scatback who finished with 149 yards rushing on 21 carries.

Carolina finished with 182 yards rushing,  but only 86 in the final three quarters.

“We weren’t overconfident by any stretch, ” Panthers Coach John Fox said. “We played this team before, and we know their potency on offense. It’s a 60-minute game.”

In the second quarter,  Carolina sandwiched a 32-yard field goal by John Kasay between field goals of 23 and 25 yards by the John Carney,  leaving the Saints trailing 17-6 at halftime.

Ten of Carolina’s points were the direct result of two Brees turnovers  —  a fumble at the Saints’ 11 and an interception by cornerback Chris Gamble at the Panthers’ 4.

Those mistakes might have hurt past Saints teams but not this year’s team.

“I take responsibility for the way we came out offensively, ” said Brees,  who finished with more-than-respectable numbers of 24-of-35 for 330 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a 96.1 passer rating. “I turned the ball over twice. I’m really disappointed in myself,  knowing how important the game was today.

“What I can take pride in is the way we bounced back,  our entire team. We know we got what it takes to come back and win.”

The Saints wasted little time getting back in the game,  driving 80 yards in four plays for a touchdown with the second-half kickoff. Thomas capped the drive with a 10-yard run,  trimming Carolina’s lead to 17-13 with 13:14 remaining in the quarter.

Kasay provided some breathing room at 20-13 with a 25-yard field goal at the 3:27 mark. But Carolina’s lead was short-lived as Brees and wide receiver Robert Meacham collaborated on a 54-yard scoring pass on the final play of the third quarter to tie the score at 20.

In a sense,  the Saints had Carolina right where they wanted it,  based on their previous seven games in which they had outscored the opposition 81-18 in the fourth quarter.

That trend continued as the Saints blanked Carolina 10-0 in the final 15 minutes,  leaving Payton to put his team’s 8-0 start in perspective.

“There hasn’t been a rich history here, ” said Payton,  while acknowledging the number of good teams under Mora during his 10 1/2-year tenure. “But (8-0) doesn’t really promise you anything.

“I am encouraged with how we’ve been playing. I’m encouraged that we’ve been able to win some games without playing our best football. We made a few mistakes  —  a turnover in the red zone after we had just gotten a turnover. Those are all things that can potentially hurt you in a game. But you never lose sight of your ability to come back. So,  that was encouraging.”

The victory also allows the Saints to regain state bragging rights,  ending the Panthers’ seven-game win streak in Louisiana. Six had come at the Superdome dating to 2002,  the other at Tiger Stadium during the Hurricane Katrina season of 2005.

But that was a distant thought for the 2009 Saints on Sunday. Most players focused on the present and not-too-distant future.

“It’s great, ” Brees said. “1967 until now,  and we’re the only team to have done that. I feel like we have a special group of guys. We feel like we have what it takes to continue to win,  as long as we take care of the little things and continue to get better.

“We understand what’s at stake here and the opportunity we have.”

That opportunity continues to take on a life of its own with each passing victory.

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