Final

Panthers 17

(6-10, 3-5 away)

Saints 45

(13-3, 8-0 home)

Coverage: FOX

1:00 PM ET, January 1, 2012

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA 

1 2 3 4 T
CAR 7 10 0 017
NO 14 10 14 745

Top Performers

Passing: D. Brees (NO) - 389 YDS, 5 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: C. Ivory (NO) - 19 CAR, 127 YDS, 1 TD

Receiving: M. Colston (NO) - 7 REC, 145 YDS, 2 TD

Drew Brees, Saints blow through record books in romp over Panthers

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees set a merciless tone with relentless, aggressive, pinpoint passing and the New Orleans Saints shrugged off injury risks, barreling into the postseason with an all-out effort.

"Every facet of our offense is clicking right now, but yet you're constantly finding ways to advance it," Brees said. "We've raised the bar for ourselves. We have a high level of expectations, and we're just trying to meet that level."

Brees passed for 389 yards and five touchdowns, and the Saints set a slew of NFL and club records in a 45-17 blowout of the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

The NFL single-season records set by the Saints (13-3), who head into the playoffs on an eight-game winning streak, included offensive yards with 7,474, team yards passing with 5,347 and first downs with 416.

Brees, who was 28 of 35, finished with a record 468 completions this season, breaking Peyton Manning's 2010 mark of 450. He finished the season completing 71.6 percent of his passes, breaking his own 2009 NFL record 70.6 completion percentage.

In terms of playoff seeding, New Orleans gained nothing with the victory, finishing with the third seed because San Francisco (13-3), which had a better conference record, held onto the second seed by winning at St. Louis. That result locked the Saints into a first-round matchup at home against Detroit (10-6) on Saturday night.

Yet New Orleans hadn't forgotten the bitterness of limping into the playoffs with a loss in their last regular-season game a season ago before being bounced by underdog Seattle in the first round.

"You obviously saw the result last year, and we didn't feel like we came out and played well or carried momentum into the playoffs," Brees said. "I feel like we're playing our best football right now. This is where we wanted to be."

Jimmy Graham had 97 yards receiving to finish with 1,310, exceeding Kellen Winslow's 1980 record of 1,290 for a tight end. But New England's Rob Gronkowski finished with 1,327 yards, establishing a new mark.

Darren Sproles had 40 yards rushing, 29 yards receiving and 99 yards on kickoff and punt returns to finish with season with an NFL record 2,969 combined yards, easily breaking the previous mark of 2,690, set by Derrick Mason with Tennessee in 2000.

Carolina (6-10), which had won four of five, kept up for much of the first half but wilted over the final two quarters while the Saints set a franchise single-game record with 617 yards of total offense.

"We caught a football team that is on a roll right now," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "That's a playoff-caliber football team that did that to us."

Marques Colston caught Brees' first two scoring passes, making a spectacular, spinning catch with arms outstretched on the first one from 15 yards out.

Colston's second touchdown went for 42 yards, and he finished with seven catches for 145 yards.

Afterward, Colston, who studied psychology at Hofstra, declared: "Mentally and emotionally, we're as prepared as a team can be."

Brees also connected with Graham on a 19-yard scoring strike, and added TD passes of 9 yards to Sproles and 1 yard to fullback Jed Collins.

Graham's TD catch was his 11th, matching a club record also reached by Joe Horn in 2004 and Colston in 2007.

Brees surpassed 300 yards passing for the seventh straight game and 13th time this season, both NFL records he already held and simply extended.

The records come one week after Brees passed Dan Marino's 27-yard-old single-season record of 5,084 yards passing.

Brees finished the season with 5,476 yards to go with 46 touchdown passes, fourth most in NFL history. First is New England's Tom Brady with 50 in 2007.

Remarkably, Brees didn't even play most of the fourth quarter for the second time in three games. As was the case in a 42-20 win at Minnesota two weeks earlier, Brees was relieved by Chase Daniel after the Saints had built a commanding lead.

With six touchdowns against Carolina, the Saints finished with 66 this season breaking the 2009 record of 64. New Orleans' 547 points smashed the 2009 club record of 510 and was the third highest total in NFL history behind the 2007 Patriots (589) and the 1998 Minnesota Vikings (556).

Still, Brees balked at the opportunity to engage in much self-congratulating for the history he and head coach Sean Payton's offense have made this season.

"All this stuff along the way is awesome and special and we can reflect on that for years and years, but you play this game for championships, for rings, because that links you together forever," Brees said. "Here we are having accomplished so much, and yet the ultimate prize is still out there."

Cam Newton closed out an otherwise spectacular rookie season 15 of 25 for 158 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

"It was embarrassing how we ended that game," Newton said. "Offense, defense, special teams, the whole 9 yards, it was real tough."

The Saints had 360 yards of total offense in the first half, when they easily blew past the Rams' 2000 yardage record of 7,075.

Brees passed for 249 yards in the half, when he hit Colston for the Saints' first two passing touchdowns.

Both defenses struggled for much of the half, and each team might have scored more if not for Patrick Robinson's interception of Newton in the Saints' end zone and R.J. Stanford's interception of Brees deep in Panthers territory.

Chris Ivory gave the Saints a 7-0 lead on the opening series of the game with his 35-yard touchdown run.

The Panthers hit right back with Newton's 12-yard timing pass to Steve Smith to tie it. Later, Jonathan Stewart's 29-yard scoring run pulled the Panthers into a tie at 17 with 1:18 to go in the second quarter.

That was too much time for Brees who connected on his long TD pass to Colston with 7 seconds on the clock to make it 24-17 at halftime.

Game notes


Colston set a club record with his fifth 1,000-yard season with the Saints, moving ahead of Joe Horn, who had four. ... Saints P Thomas Morstead set a record for punting average in a season at 47.9 yards. ... The Saints went 8-0 at home for the first time in franchise history. ... Carolina officials said after the game that CB Darius Butler had a broken arm, but they did not specify which one, while TE Greg Olsen had a concussion. ... Newton was sacked twice, bruising his non-throwing left elbow on one sack by rookie Saints linebacker Martez Wilson. ... Payton said WR Robert Meachem was taken out of the game as a precaution with knee pain in the third quarter.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
CAR
NO
1st Downs2133
Passing 1st downs
923
Rushing 1st downs
910
1st downs from penalties
30
3rd down efficiency
0-56-9
4th down efficiency
0-00-1
Total Plays5173
Total Yards301617
Yards per play5.98.5
Total Drives1110
Passing137409
Comp-Att
15-2531-38
Yards per pass
5.110.8
Interceptions thrown
11
Sacks-Yards Lost
2-210-0
Rushing164208
Rushing Attempts
2435
Yards per rush
6.85.9
Red Zone (Made-Att)1-24-6
Penalties1-56-60
Turnovers21
Fumbles lost
10
Interceptions thrown
11
Defensive / Special Teams TDs00
Possession25:2634:34

Passing Leaders

CARC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Newton15/251586.3112-21
NOC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Brees28/3538911.1510-0
Daniel3/3206.7000-0

Rushing Leaders

CARCARYDSAVGTDLG
Stewart9798.8129
Williams7537.6020
NOCARYDSAVGTDLG
Ivory191276.7135
Sproles6406.7011

Receiving Leaders

CARRECYDSAVGTDLG
Smith68614.3122
LaFell22713.5014
NORECYDSAVGTDLG
Colston714520.7242
Graham89712.1129

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERCARNO
noTD13:29Chris Ivory 35 Yard Run (John Kasay Kick is Good)
Drive info: 4 plays, 80 yds, 1:39
07
carTD6:47Steve Smith 12 Yard Pass From Cam Newton (Olindo Mare Kick is Good)
Drive info: 11 plays, 80 yds, 6:39
77
noTD2:56Marques Colston 15 Yard Pass From Drew Brees (John Kasay Kick is Good)
Drive info: 9 plays, 83 yds, 3:52
714
SECOND QUARTERCARNO
carFG5:55Olindo Mare 41 Yard Field Goal is Good
Drive info: 6 plays, 13 yds, 2:31
1014
noFG2:46John Kasay 43 Yard Field Goal is Good
Drive info: 9 plays, 55 yds, 3:08
1017
carTD1:25Jonathan Stewart 29 Yard Run (Olindo Mare Kick is Good)
Drive info: 5 plays, 80 yds, 1:24
1717
noTD0:16Marques Colston 42 Yard Pass From Drew Brees (John Kasay Kick is Good)
Drive info: 6 plays, 81 yds, 1:11
1724
THIRD QUARTERCARNO
noTD8:59Jimmy Graham 19 Yard Pass From Drew Brees (John Kasay Kick is Good)
Drive info: 6 plays, 61 yds, 3:28
1731
noTD3:51Jed Collins 1 Yard Pass From Drew Brees (John Kasay Kick is Good)
Drive info: 7 plays, 44 yds, 3:23
1738
FOURTH QUARTERCARNO
noTD12:22Darren Sproles 9 Yard Pass From Drew Brees (John Kasay Kick is Good)
Drive info: 7 plays, 68 yds, 3:50
1745

Research Notes

NEXT LEVEL: Drew Brees completed 10 of 12 passes that traveled 15 or more yards in the air Sunday against the Panthers, including three touchdowns. Entering Week 17, Brees had completed a league-high 54.9 percent of such passes with 15 touchdowns, tied for best in NFL.
With his fourth reception Sunday against the Saints, Steve Smith passed Muhsin Muhammad for the Panthers record for receptions. Muhammad had 696 career receptions, while Smith has 697 (and counting).
Drew Brees and Tom Brady have each thrown a Pass TD today and continue to climb the all-time list.
  [+]

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