CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton decided the risk of injury outweighed heading into the playoffs on a positive note.
The backups responded with an ugly performance that sends the No. 1 seed in the NFC to the postseason on a three-game losing streak.
Jonathan Stewart rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown and the Carolina Panthers finished their disappointing season with a 23-10 win over the lifeless Saints on Sunday.
Drew Brees came out for the coin toss and never saw the field again, allowing him to break the NFL record for completion percentage in a season. Backup Mark Brunell had few options with many other starters resting, too, and New Orleans (13-3) looked nothing like the team that less than a month ago was flirting with a perfect season.