The Saints won a game by making plays. On defense.
New Orleans hung on for a 31-26 win over the Panthers in the wild card round, sacking Cam Newton on a fourth-and-23 attempt to close the game.
The Saints advance to next week’s divisional round against the Vikings, in a game between what appear to be the two best teams in the NFC.
The Saints harassed Newton throughout the day, sacking him four times, and foiling some late-game dramatics.
But between holding them to field goals in the first half and a brilliant day by Drew Brees, the Saints were the better team (again, after sweeping the Panthers in the regular season).
Brees finished with 376 yards and two touchdowns, on a day when the Panthers were intent on stopping the run. They largely did that, as Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined for just 45 yards on the ground.
The Panthers are going to have some questions to answer beyond their lack of red zone success, after Newton left the game briefly in the fourth quarter. He stumbled coming off the field, and went to the blue medical tent but not to the locker room. The team announced that he was checked for a concussion and was cleared, and he was sitting on the bench with ice on his eye afterward.
After missing one snap, he came back in the next possession and threw a 56-yard catch-and-run touchdown to running back Christian McCaffrey, which cut the Saints lead to 31-26.
They got the ball back with a chance to win after safety Mike Adams intercepted a fourth-down pass he’d have been better off dropping, but the Panthers final drive came up short.