Saints left tackle Terron Armstead and Carolina guard Trai Turner each had been listed as questionable for Sunday's NFC wild-card game after both were unable to play in their teams' regular-season finales a week earlier.
With the victory, the fourth-seeded Saints will head to Minneapolis, Minn., Sunday to visit the second-seeded Minnesota Vikings in a NFC Divisional Playoff game.
Brees, a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback, was seldom pressured by the Panthers' pass rush, and generally picked apart the Carolina secondary in a 31-26 victory at the Superdome. With the top-seed Eagles missing Carson Wentz and an underdog to the sixth-seeded Falcons next Saturday, the Saints-Vikings victor would host the NFC championship game if the Falcons win. "I know the team's ins and outs".
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, much of whose season was side-tracked by injury, made two huge plays leading to Carolina's first touchdown in the fourth quarter. The late intentional grounding call against Newton on the final drive also deserves more explanation.
"I'm glad he intercepted it", said Brees.
Caleb Clay dropped a sure touchdown in the first quarter and a play later Graham Gano - the most accurate kicker in the National Football League this season - missed a chip shot from 25 yards. But the Panthers stalled four times from inside the New Orleans 25, settling for four field goal attempts on those drives, one of which kicker Graham Gano surprisingly missed. "But that game didn't come down to just one call that could have went either way". But four red zone trips in the first three quarters resulted in just three field goals. It's hard to imagine how they'll be able to top themselves in 2018. "I hope our fans know what a difference they made in the Atlanta game when obviously we stressed the importance of that".
Newton finished 24 of 40 passing for 349 yards and two touchdowns, including a 56-yard scoring strike to Christian McCaffrey that pulled the Panthers within a touchdown with 4:09 left. Olsen got the payoff with a 14-yard slant, and Carolina had cut the deficit to 24-19 with 12:47 left. The saints have a pair of excellent pass rushers in Alex Okafor and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan, he leads the team with 13 sacks. On a fourth-and-2, Brees threw the ball up, and Carolina's Mike Adams reeled in the ball for what ended up being a 16-yard loss of field position. It wasn't going to be like the first game we played them or the second game.
"He actually got poked in the eye", Rivera said of Cam after the loss.
The 2017 season for the Saints has been all about a vastly improved defense, and the tandem of running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.
Brees and Payton teamed to lead the Saints to a Super Bowl triumph in the 2009 season.
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