Panthers let playoff chance slip away in New Orleans

CHARLOTTE, NC (Langston Wertz./Charlotte Observer) - Well, this season the New Orleans Saints have been running the ball much more than ever, terrorizing the league with the NFL's top running back tandem: Alvin Kamara and former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.

The duo rushed for nearly 2,000 yards combined in the regular-season.

Sunday, in the NFL playoffs against the Carolina Panthers, the Saints' run game was slowed down and New Orleans won 31-26 by reverting to what they've always been with Drew Brees as their quarterback: one of the most explosive offenses on the planet.

Brees simply riddled a Panthers defense that seemed prep to stop the run with a littany of precision passes and, although he held the ball longer than he usually does, Carolina's vaunted pass rush couldn't get home. And that allowed one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history to simply tear apart what was one of the league's best defenses.

Brees completed 23-of-32 passes for 376 yards and two touchdowns, and looked like a former All-Pro and former Super Bowl winning quarterback, coming through big in the big moment.

Carolina, meanwhile, moved the ball well, but an early touchdown drop and too many drives that led to field goals put the Panthers into a hole they couldn't quite climb out of.

But the Panthers got the ball late with about 70 yards to score after New Orleans coach Sean Payton made a curious decision to go for it on fourth and 2 near midfield. Cam Newton drove the Panthers down the field but was sacked on fourth down before he could throw the ball in the end zone.