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Carolina at New Orleans

Fast-finishing Panthers seal bummer season for Saints

CBSSports.com wire reports

NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees and the Saints can hardly wait to get Sean Payton back and move beyond the bounty scandal that overshadowed their worst season in half a decade.

The Panthers rallied for a 44-38 victory on Sunday that dropped the Saints to their first losing season since 2007.

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2012 NFL Week 17
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"It's going to be an eye-opener for some people, I'm sure, as it should be, because this is not our standard, what happened this year," Brees said as he spoke of Payton's impending return from his season-long suspension in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation. "Sean's going to come in chomping at the bit and we're going to have to be ready to roll. This offseason can't come fast enough."

DeAngelo Williams rushed for 210 yards, including touchdown runs of 54 and 12 yards, for Carolina (7-9). His 65-yard gain set up the first of three 1-yard scoring runs by Mike Tolbert.

The Panthers trotted to the locker room brimming with hope about 2013 after closing the season winning four straight and five out of six. That finish will reflect well on coach Ron Rivera, who has been answering questions about his job security as his second straight losing season wound down.

"I'm proud of the fact that those guys showed up every day and worked, did the things we asked and did them very well," said Rivera, whose eyes were red after he stood by the locker room door and exchanged hugs with players walking off the field. "This is a good group of men and they deserved this. They deserved the opportunity to win four in a row."

He said he wants to be back and expects to meet with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson in Charlotte in the next couple days.

"Mr. Richardson has been fair and I appreciate the opportunity he has given me, and we will see how things unfold," Rivera said.

Brees passed for 396 yards, giving him 5,177 this season, also third most behind the 2011 totals of himself (5,476) and New England's Tom Brady (5,235). Brees became the first player to eclipse 5,000 yards three times. His four TD passes gave him 43 in 2012, and he's the first player with 40 TD passes in consecutive seasons.

The Saints (7-9) also gave up 530 yards, raising their season total to 7,042 to break the old record of 6,793 allowed by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.

"Totally unacceptable what happened today," said Joe Vitt, who has been serving as interim head coach during Payton's absence. "Very disappointing. There's no way to sugarcoat this."

Payton, who agreed to a five-year contract extension, is expected to return to work after New Orleans plays host to the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.

"To have gone through what we went through this year and just to hang tough ... it would have been very easy at times to fracture and not have the togetherness that we had," Brees said. "We just have to believe that what happened this year is going to serve us well in the future."

Carolina has its own reasons to be optimistic about 2013.

Kicker Graham Gano had field goals of 20, 31 and 42 yards. Cam Newton was 16 of 33 for 248 yards.

Newton was intercepted once, but for only the second time in seven games. The interception, returned 18 yards for a touchdown in the first half, was made by linebacker Jonathan Vilma, a central figure in the bounty scandal. Vilma, who the NFL called a ringleader in the Saints' cash-for-hits program, initially was suspended the entire season. He never served a game of that ban after he, defensive end Will Smith, and former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove fought successfully to have their suspensions of various lengths thrown out on appeal.

Leading 24-13, the Saints looked ready to seize control in the third quarter. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen fumbled along the sideline in Carolina territory, and defensive back Johnny Patrick appeared to recover. Initially, the play was blown dead and Olsen ruled down. Vitt challenged the call, and the play was ruled a fumble, but Patrick's right foot was so close to the sideline that referee Al Riveron could not determine if the Saints took possession.

"He didn't get the same angle that we, I guess, had on the Jumbotron," Vitt said, adding he was more upset by his team's mistakes after that pivotal play.

The ball remained with the Panthers, and Williams ran for his long TD soon afterward.

Carolina took a 27-24 lead after converting Brees' 19th interception of the season into Tolbert's second short scoring run. Charles Godfrey picked off an underthrown pass that had Brees ripping at his chin strap in disgust.

Two of Brees' scoring passes went to Marques Colston for 7 and 9 yards. He also hit tight end Jimmy Graham for a 19-yard score and Darren Sproles for a 33-yard TD in the fourth quarter as the Saints, who trailed 41-24 with 8:23 left, nearly mounted a late comeback.


  • Lance Moore had four catches for 121 yards and Graham had nine catches for 115 yards. Moore finished with a career-high 1,041 yards receiving, second on team behind Colston's 1,154.
  • Colston had five catches to give him 532, tied for first in franchise history with Eric Martin.
  • In the fourth quarter, Newton appeared to injure his lower left leg. It was caught awkwardly under defensive end Turk McBride on a hit shortly after Newton had thrown. Newton returned after missing several plays to complete a touchdown drive.
Copyright 2016 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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Related Video

Sun. Dec. 30Final
Pass: C. Newton (16-33, 248) D. Brees (29-43, 396)
Rush: D. Williams (21-210) M. Ingram (10-39)
Rec: S. Smith (3-73) L. Moore (4-121)
Scoring Summary
FGGraham Gano makes a 20 yard kick. Drive: 15 plays, 76 yards in 7:06.
TDMike Tolbert runs for 1 yard (Graham Gano kick is good). Drive: 3 plays, 82 yards in 1:12.
TDMarques Colston catches a 7 yard pass from Drew Brees (Garrett Hartley kick is good). Drive: 7 plays, 76 yards in 3:04.
TDJonathan Vilma makes an 18 yard interception return (Garrett Hartley kick is good).
FGGraham Gano makes a 31 yard kick. Drive: 9 plays, 60 yards in 3:52.
FGGarrett Hartley makes a 53 yard kick. Drive: 5 plays, 47 yards in 0:39.
TDJimmy Graham catches a 19 yard pass from Drew Brees (Garrett Hartley kick is good). Drive: 8 plays, 80 yards in 4:15.
TDDeAngelo Williams runs for 54 yards (Graham Gano kick is good). Drive: 4 plays, 80 yards in 1:57.
TDMike Tolbert runs for 1 yard (Graham Gano kick is good). Drive: 3 plays, 36 yards in 1:18.
TDMike Tolbert runs for 1 yard (Graham Gano kick is good). Drive: 9 plays, 80 yards in 4:36.
TDDeAngelo Williams runs for 12 yards (Graham Gano kick is good). Drive: 1 play, 12 yards in 0:06.
TDMarques Colston catches a 9 yard pass from Drew Brees (Garrett Hartley kick is good). Drive: 10 plays, 81 yards in 3:13.
FGGraham Gano makes a 42 yard kick. Drive: 4 plays, 5 yards in 1:02.
TDDarren Sproles catches a 33 yard pass from Drew Brees (Garrett Hartley kick is good). Drive: 4 plays, 80 yards in 1:16.
Players of the Game
New Orleans

D. Brees
Att 43
Comp 29
Yds 396
TD 4

D. Williams
Rush 21
Yds 210
Avg 10.0
TD 2
C. Newton16/3324801
D. Anderson1/11200
D. Williams21210265
C. Newton734016
M. Tolbert102535
B. LaFell1404
S. Smith373031
B. LaFell562019
L. Murphy357034
G. Olsen443016
M. Tolbert122022
D. Williams1303
New Orleans
D. Brees29/4339641
M. Ingram1039017
C. Ivory422011
J. Morgan1101
D. Sproles3105
L. Moore4121051
J. Graham9115127
D. Sproles879133
M. Colston552218
D. Henderson116016
J. Morgan1808
J. Collins1505
Complete Player Stats
Other Games
TB 22 Final
ATL 17
NYJ 9 Final
BUF 28
BAL 17 Final
CIN 23
CHI 26 Final
DET 24
HOU 16 Final
IND 28
GB 34 Final
MIN 37
MIA 0 Final
NE 28
PHI 7 Final
NYG 42
CLE 10 Final
PIT 24
JAC 20 Final
TEN 38
DAL 18 Final
WAS 28
KC 3 Final
DEN 38
OAK 21 Final
SD 24
ARI 13 Final
SF 27
STL 13 Final
SEA 20