NEW ORLEANS, LA (WLOX) - New Orleans looked as if they would have a cake walk in their third match up with Carolina. After the Panthers missed a field goal, Drew Brees fired an 80 yard touchdown strike to former Panther Ted Ginn Jr. and he connected with tight end Josh Hill on a 9-yard touchdown that gave New Orleans a 14-3 advantage.
Brees completed 23 of 33 pass attempts for 376 yards including a 25 yard hookup with Hill that set up a one yard touchdown run by Zach Line propelling New Orleans to a 21-6 lead.
Instead of a cake walk..the game turned into a nail biter in the fourth quarter. Cam Newton zipped a 14 yard touchdown to tight end Greg Olsen and the Panthers rally was on.
Brees came right back with a fake toss, rolled out and loafed a 46 yard connection to Michael Thomas into the red zone. The Panthers held Saints running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to 45 yards, but Kamara cracked the goal line from the two in what turned out to be the game winning touchdown. Saints led 31 to 19.
Carolina battled back. Newton fired a bullet to a wide open Christian McCaffrey and the rookie would complete a 56-yard touchdown as he made his way into the end zone.
New Orleans faced a fourth down and two and decided to secure the win with under 2 minutes remaining. Brees had his pass intercepted and it opened the door for Newton and company.
Panthers had a golden opportunity to win the game on a touchdown. It didn't happen thanks to the Saints defense. Vonn Bell sacked Newton and New Orleans is now two wins away from making a return trip to the Super Bowl.
Brees said, "We trust our system. We trust each other and what we prove is that we can beat you in a lot of different ways."
The Saints advance to the NFC Divisional playoffs at Minnesota, a 3:40 p.m. Sunday match up with the Vikings. Minnesota has opened up as a 3 1/2 point favorite. The Vikings beat the Saints 29-19 in the season opener in Minnesota behind quarterback Sam Bradford. He's no longer the starting quarterback. After he suffered an injury Case Keenum took over and Minnesota would secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. The other NFC Divisional game sends the red hot Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia on Saturday. Atlanta is a 3 1/2 point favorite against the top-seeded Eagles.