Newton’s five TD passes keep Panthers undefeated

Brett Martel
Associated Press

New Orleans — Cam Newton and the Panthers are collecting some nice memories in New Orleans.

Newton passed for five touchdowns, capped by a 15-yard scoring strike to Jerricho Cotchery with 1:05 to go, and the unbeaten Panthers clinched the NFC South with a 41-38 victory over the Saints on Sunday.

Carolina, the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL, has the ninth 12-0 start in the Super Bowl era. The Panthers have won 16 straight regular-season games, a streak that began in the Superdome last season.

Newton, who was 28 of 41 for 331 yards, twice had to lead the Panthers back from fourth-quarter deficits as the Saints (4-8) tried desperately to avoid a four-game losing streak. Jonathan Stewart had a 5-yard scoring run on a pitch from Newton.

“I expected us to win the football game,” Newton said, adding he wasn’t pleased by how tight the game got at the end against the reeling Saints (4-8), who’ve lost four straight. “We’ve got to find ways moving forward not to put ourselves in this position. This was a wakeup call for us. And moving forward, we know we can’t just win games by us showing up.”

Drew Brees passed for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Saints linebacker Stephone Anthony returned a fumble 31 yards for a score, and also became the first NFL player to return a blocked extra-point kick for 2 points in NFL history.

Carolina led 27-16 after Newton’s 13-yard pass to Devin Funchess (Michigan), but New Orleans rallied to take a 31-27 lead on Brees’ 54-yard TD to Brandin Cooks and 24-yard scoring pass to Brandon Coleman.

The Panthers went back in front on Newton’s fourth scoring pass, a 45-yarder to Ted Ginn Jr. But New Orleans answered with Mark Ingram’s 9-yard run with 5:21 left, forcing Newton to put together one more touchdown drive. He narrowly pulled it off, finding tight end Greg Olsen for a first down as he rolled left on a fourth-and-4. Olsen had to fall to the ground to make a fingertip grab of the underthrown pass, which was so close to hitting the ground that fans in the Superdome were roaring at replays as Saints coach Sean Payton asked for a review.

“That is one of the things that we get out of this that we will certainly build on, that (Newton) was able to win a shootout and take a drive in the fourth quarter to give us a chance,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said after capturing his third successive division title. “It goes back to his whole development as a quarterback in this league. I am really proud of what he did and the confidence with which he played.”

Olsen finished with nine catches for 129 yards. Ginn had five receptions for 80 yards and two TDs.

Cooks had six catches for 104 yards for the Saints. Both Brees and Newton were intercepted once.

“There were a lot of good things, but still too many of the little things that get you beat,” Brees said.

New Orleans’ defense, which demonstrated moderate improvement a week ago in Dennis Allen’s first game as coordinator, produced three turnovers and a touchdown in the first half.

However, the Saints’ offense was unable to convert cornerback Delvin Breaux’s interception or Kenny Vaccaro’s recovery of Olsen’s fumble into points. One of those possessions ended in Kai Forbath’s missed 38-yard field goal and the other with a punt.

Anthony ripped the ball away from Stewart as he to push through a pile of players. Anthony stepped over the pile with the ball. Carolina players near him seemed to think the play was over and just watched as Anthony raced 31 yards to the end zone for a 14-0 lead.