by Hunter Dawkins

With over 73,000 fans in the Mercedes Benz Superdome Sunday afternoon, the New Orleans Saints football team beat the National Football Conference (NFC) South Division rival Carolina Panthers 34-31 on a last second 33-yard field goal by kicker Wil Lutz.  This last second field goal was Lutz’s second last second field goal after knocking in the opening night 58-yard kick against the Houston Texans as time expired.

The Saints improve to 9-2 and clinch a winning record for the 14th time in franchise history and the eighth time since Sean Payton became head coach in 2006.  Currently, New Orleans has had a winning record in each of the last three seasons, the third such stretch in franchise history.

In a game of inches and possessions, the Saints turned the momentum in their favor after the Carolina Panthers (5-6) missed a short 28-yard field goal from kicker Joey Slye.  Before this attempt, Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera was successful in challenging a no-call pass interference on a short third down pass in the red zone.  Despite the reversal being in favor of the Panthers, New Orleans “Dome Patrol” defense stuffed Carolina’s goal line attempt three times.

“It wasn’t our best game and by far it wasn’t their best game,” said New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton in referencing the officiating of the game.  “I’m not going to get into the replays relative to the fouls. The change that took place in the offseason. I don’t know that it’s exactly what we discussed where we are today with it. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not, but we’ve got to be able to adjust.”

Opening the game with offensive possession, New Orleans took the lead early (which they never gave up) by scoring on their opening two drives.  The first touchdown was scored on 26-yard dive run from New Orleans Running Back Latavius Murray at 10:39 after a seven play series and the second score being on a 13-yard pass by Saints Quarterback Drew Brees to Receiver Tre’Quan Smith with 5:12 left in the first quarter.  The second touchdown came after a call was reversed where the Saints punter Thomas Morstead’s kick had touched a Panthers player with a New Orleans recovery.

Carolina kept the game tight, putting points on the scoreboard with a 51-yard touchdown pass from Panthers Quarterback Kyle Allen to Receiver D.J. Moore.  In a tough day for kicker, Joey Slye missed his first extra point leaving the score as 14-6 with 3:08 in the first quarter.

New Orleans could only concoct a field goal to answer, as Lutz put a 41-yard field goal through the uprights with 13:34 left in the half.  This kick made the score 17-6 in favor of the Saints.

The Panthers would finish the second quarter with 9 points to zero points from the Saints on one more possession, leaving the halftime score as 17-15 with a New Orleans lead.

Coming out of the halftime gates, the energy of the New Orleans crowd went to the field.  The Panthers went three and out on their opening possession, followed by a 20-yard touchdown pass from the Saints Quarterback Brees to Tight End Jared Cook on a five-play drive with 11:18 left.

After the Panthers answered with a short field goal from Slye, the Saints marched down; scoring a three yard touchdown pass from Brees to New Orleans Receiver Michael Thomas with 5:09 left in the third quarter.  The score was now a 31-18 comfortable lead for the Saints.

It was a combination of big plays and was just good complementary football, a good balance,” said New Orleans Saints future Hall-of-Fame Quarterback Drew Brees.  “We were talking about that and we need to improve on that.”

Unfortunately, this was the last comfortable position for New Orleans the rest of the game.  The next eight possessions were only accounted for one score from the Saints, but it was the one that mattered.  Carolina scored two touchdowns in this time frame, evening the score 31-31 before the last second field goal by New Orleans.

The Saints turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter.  Both turnovers (interception and turnover on downs) were near midfield, which led to a Panthers touchdown and the final short field goal that Slye missed.

Offensively, New Orleans amassed 418 total yards, 300 passing yards and 118 rushing yards. With 34 points, the Saints scored at least 30 points in seven of its 11 games this season.  

Saints Quarterback Brees led both teams passing, accounting for 311 yards on 30-39 attempts with three touchdowns and an interception.  All-Pro New Orleans Receiver Michael Thomas had a phenomenal game on the field, pulling in 10 receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown.

The season total for Thomas are now 104 receptions and 1,242 yards, which he becomes only the fifth player in NFL history to have at least 100 receptions and 1,200 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons, joining Antonio Brown, Marvin Harrison, Herman Moore, and Jerry Rice.

As the Saints have a short week, playing Thanksgiving night against the arch-rival Atlanta Falcons in, New Orleans holds a four game lead in the South Division hoping to clinch a share Thursday.

“I think anytime we take the field, regardless of who the opponent is, we want be balanced,” said Brees to The Gazebo Gazette.  “We want to be efficient. We want to convert third downs, make big plays when we have the opportunity.”

At the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the Atlanta Falcons (3-8) will host the New Orleans Saints (9-2) at 7:20pm Thursday night.