Saints Stage Late Rally Against Panthers, Improve to 8-0

Saints Stage Late Rally Against Panthers, Improve to 8-0 NEW ORLEANS — What might be the finest Saints team ever is off to the best start in club history.

New Orleans moved to 8-0 on Sunday when Drew Brees overcame two early turnovers to pass for 330 yards and a touchdown in a 30-20 comeback victory over Carolina.

While the Saints’ defense did not intercept a pass for the first time all season, the unit forced three turnovers on fumbles. The last produced New Orleans’ seventh defensive touchdown of the season on Anthony Hargrove‘s strip, recovery and 1-yard return late in the fourth quarter.

Hargrove might have been down before he advanced the ball, but the play occurred shortly before the two-minute warning and Carolina was out of timeouts, so the Panthers couldn’t challenge.

DeAngelo Williams rushed for 149 yards and two TDs, and Carolina gained 182 yards on the ground. However, it was Williams’ fumble at his 1 that led to the clinching TD.

It was the first time Carolina lost in Louisiana since 2001 and was quarterback Jake Delhomme‘s first loss in the Louisiana Superdome. The Panthers blew a 17-3 lead.

After failing to score a touchdown in the first half for the first time all season, the Saints got the ball to open the third quarter and needed only four plays to score. Devery Henderson‘s 63-yard gain on a short slant pass set up Pierre Thomas‘ 10-yard scoring run, cutting Carolina’s lead to 17-13.

It took nearly 10 minutes before the Saints’ offense got back on the field again. Delhomme led Carolina on a 19-play drive that included four third-down conversions and consumed 9:46, setting up John Kasay‘s 25-yard field goal. The drive perhaps should have produced a touchdown, but Delhomme’s third-down pass bounced off Williams’ shoulder pads at the goal line.

New Orleans tied it at 20 by the end of the third quarter on Robert Meachem‘s leaping catch and run for a 54-yard score.

On their next possession, the Saints started at their 2 and drove 76 yards in 13 plays to go ahead 23-20 on John Carney‘s 40-yard field goal with 4:36 left.

Their defense held, with Will Smith sacking and stripping Delhomme on fourth down and Hargrove recovering. While New Orleans’ offense could not get a first down on its next series, Thomas Morstead‘s punt was downed at the Carolina 2, setting up Hargrove’s second fumble recovery in less than a minute.

Before that stretch, Hargrove, suspended all of 2008 for NFL substance-abuse violations, hadn’t had a fumble recovery since 2005.

Carolina led 14-0 on Williams’ touchdown runs of 66 and 7 yards, both of which came before the Saints made a first down.

Williams’ long run came on the second play of the game. Brees was then sacked and stripped by Tyler Brayton on the first play of New Orleans’ second possession. Jon Beason recovered on the Saints 11, setting up Williams’ second score.

Early in the second quarter, New Orleans had a chance to get back in it when Jonathan Stewart fumbled at the Carolina 16. Two plays later, Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble intercepted Brees’ underthrown pass for Marques Colston and returned it 41 yards, leading to Kasay’s 32-yard field goal to make it 17-3.

In the final 30 seconds of the second quarter, Brees’ 45-yard completion to Colston, combined with a roughing-the-passer penalty, gave the Saints a first down at the Carolina 7, setting up Carney’s second field goal.

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