Defense Rules As Saints Defeat Panthers 12-9
Defense led the way for the New Orleans Saints Monday night, propelling the team to a 12-9 win over the Carolina Panthers and 1 win closer to the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
12 points marks the lowest total for a victory in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era, and the lowest by a Saints team since a 9-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just over 20 years ago.
Carolina took an early 7-0 lead in the 1st quarter on their only scoring drive of the game, using trickeration on a 4th down halfback pass by Christian McCaffery which led to tight end Chris Manhertz wide open on a catch and run 50 yard touchdown.
For the next 49+ minutes, the Saints defense pitched a shutout. The Panthers would score 2 points in the 4th quarter, but on a defensive 2 point attempt interception return.
"It's a good team win," said Saints head coach Sean Payton. "I'm proud of our defense. I thought they were outstanding. It's tough to win a division game on the road and we were able to do that."
Cornerback Eli Apple procured a huge interception in the end zone just before halftime to kill a Panthers drive.
Safety Vonn Bell finished with a sack and a forced fumble that came in the red zone.
New Orleans sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton 4 times.
Offense was a different story, where the Saints explosiveness was absent Monday night in Charlotte.
With only 6 points in the first half (2 field goals by Will Lutz), the Saints didn't score their first touchdown until the 4th quarter when Alvin Kamara rushed for a 16 yard score. Up 5, New Orleans elected to go for 2, but Panthers cornerback Dante Jackson intercepted the pass and returned it 98 yards for 2 points.
Late in the game, the Saints had a chance to close the door, putting together a 14 play drive, milking over 7 minutes off the clock. On 3rd down, wide receiver Tommylee Lewis fumbled the ball into the end zone to give the Panthers offense one more opportunity.
As they did all night, the Saints defense stepped up, turning Carolina over on downs to seal the win.
New Orleans improves to 12-2 with the victory, the best record in the NFL. With a win Sunday in New Orleans versus Pittsburgh, the Saints can clinch homefield advantage as the #1 seed in the NFC.