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The score gave the Saints a 14-3 advantage. And that Carolina was going to win the turnover battle, I wouldn't have thought there was any way the Panthers could lose that game. "We know how to play together, we know where people are going to be and so we're a lot more confident", Te'o said.

- It was a remarkable performance by a remarkable player in Drew Brees.

In the final game of the weekend, the Saints were able to hold off the division rival Panthers to secure a meeting with the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium, home of Super Bowl 52.

But Newton was first called for a controversial grounding call, that took the Panthers 20 yards away from the endzone, and then sacked to end the game. However, Panthers lineman Trai Turner was also flagged for holding, offsetting that penalty. The Saints inexplicably left pass-catchers such as tight end Greg Olsen and running back Christian McCaffrey wide open too many times, and Newton threw for 349 yards and two touchdowns - doing much of his damage after he briefly left the game to be tested for a concussion.

"Yeah, I wanted to play Carolina because I want to see how they operate", Lattimore said.

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The Saints then took Carolina's misery and multiplied it; on the second play after the missed field goal, quarterback Drew Brees found Ted Ginn Jr. streaking down the right sideline for what turned into a brilliant 80-yard touchdown.

The Saints defense won the game at the end and throughout as it forced four short field goal attempts with three made out of touchdown opportunities. When he threw his second touchdown pass, this one to tight end Josh Hill, early in the second quarter, the Saints had a 14-3 lead despite having only six rushing yards to that point. But the Panthers killed themselves with red-zone failures.

"It's the last step before you go out on your own in practice", Connor said. It's done. We both got to the goal we've been trying to get to, and that's the playoffs. They have nobody but themselves to blame for the loss.

"We had to finish out the game and put it on our defense, put it on me, put it on our secondary, our D-line", Jordan said. "This is 2017. That's a long time ago".

Bell provided coverage of a third-down incompletion from Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to wide receiver Devin Funchess.

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The Saints had to weather a furious late-game comeback by Cam Newton, but there are no pictures in the playoff bracket. The Panthers said later he had been poked in the eye.

But Kuechly and his mates could not shut down the Saints passing game, as Brees threw for a staggering 376 yards. The Saints have benefitted from rookie running back Alvin Kamara, 22, and veteran Mark Ingram, 28, as the New Orleans running game is averaging 4.7 yards per carry.

"It's hard to beat a team three times in a season", has been a popular refrain since the Saints were paired with the Panthers.

The Saints (12-5) did lose starting guard Andrus Peat in the first half with a broken fibula.

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