Saints Survive Scare From Panthers With Game Winning Kick
Saints fans were lucky to make it through New Orleans' 41-38 win over the Panthers without suffering multiple heart attacks.
After jumping out to a 21-0 lead in the first half, New Orleans let Carolina back into the game with three pass interference penalties in the endzone. Drew Brees had to drive the team down the field for a game winning kick, and Wil Lutz had to nail a 52-yard field goal to end one of the wildest games of the NFL season. They won, but only by a hair.
In a game where Drew Brees passed 50,000 yards passing for the Saints, joining Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and John Elway as the only players in NFL history to pass that mark with a single team, New Orleans needed every one of his 465 yards and four touchdowns for the win. They had the game won, then they tried to hand it back to the Panthers, and finally they sealed the deal. Pure insanity, but it's beautiful in the big scheme of things.
The Saints couldn't afford to lose this game, if they wanted to keep any shred of hope alive for reaching the playoffs. With the win, New Orleans improved to 2-3 on the season, and the Panthers dropped to 1-5 and 0-3 in the NFC South. The only way to digest this game is bite-by-bite, so we'll take it slow.
The first 20 minutes of the game completely belonged to the Saints. Brees was carving Carolina up, and their defensive line was putting immense amounts of pressure on Cam Newton. Before halftime, Sean Payton sent the kicking team out on a 4th and 1, and Lutz' kick wasn't even close. After that, Newton drove down the field to cut into the lead for a 24-10 scoreline going into the locker room.
Carolina was the first team to strike in the second half. Thanks to a pass interference penalty by Kenny Vaccaro, the Panthers had a 1st and Goal at the one, and Newton easily converted with a contortionist throw to the endzone. The Saints were able to respond with Coby Fleener's second TD of the day from 50 yards out, but the game was far from over at 31-17.
The panic started setting in during the 4th Quarter. Carolina drove down the field, scored easily after the second pass interference penalty in the endzone, then got the ball back again on an interception. When Jonathan Stewart jumped over the line for his second touchdown, it looked like the Panthers tied it up...but Graham Gano missed the extra point.
Leading by a single point, 31-30, Brees put the team on his back, like usual. He led the Saints down the field and capped a crucial drive off by floating a pass to Josh Hill in the back of the endzone. It took the officials a couple looks to verify the call, but it ended up as a huge touchdown catch for the second string tight end. The game wasn't over yet though.
Down eight points, Newton put on his Superman cape. He soared across the goal line, reaching the ball inside the pylon to make it a two score game. Then, he fired a missile to Devin Funchess for a two-point conversion, and all of a sudden the game was tied at 38-38. With 2:58 on the clock, Carolina forgot to never leave Brees time to clinch the game.
The Saints' savior hit several different receivers all the way down the field, including a couple massive third down conversions, and got Lutz into position to redeem himself from 52 yards out. The rookie kicker from Georgia State lined up the kick and smashed it through the uprights, and that was all she wrote. Everybody in the Superdome let out a massive sigh of relief, and the Saints picked up their second win of the season.
It was a career day for several Saints players too. Brandin Cooks collected a career-high 178 yards, including an 87-yard sprint to the goal line. Fleener scored his first rushing touchdown as a pro, and it came on 4th Down early in the game, a play that will probably be overlooked in the mass drama that followed. Last but certainly not least, Brees became the all-time leader in NFL history with his 15th career 400-yard passing game. It ended up being a banner breaking day, even though it was almost a heartbreaking disaster.
It's certainly not how the coaching staff imagined it, but a win is a win in the National Football League. If the Saints would have lost, their fans would have suffered from crippling depression. Instead, they danced out into the streets to form a second line, their second of the season.
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