Cam Newton’s fifth touchdown pass, a 13 yard strike to Jericho Cotchery with 1:05 left, gave the Carolina Panthers a thrilling 41-38 win over the New Orleans Saints Sunday afternoon at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The touchdown pass capped an 11 play 75 yard drive that started with 5:12 to play. Newton completed a fourth down pass to Greg Olson for 16 yards on fourth and four at the Saints’ 46 yard line.
Newton finished 28-41 for 335 yards and the five scores. He was intercepted once and also gained 49 yards on ten carries in the contest.
With the win, Carolina remains unbeaten at 12-0 and has clinched its third straight NFC South championship.
The Saints got on the board first when Drew Brees hit Benjamin Watson with a 14 yard touchdown pass. It was the first touchdown for the Saints in their last 20 drives. The 51 yard drive was highlighted by a 31 yard catch and run by Brandon Coleman.
The Saints squandered an opportunity on the next possession when Delvin Breaux intercepted Cam Newton’s pass. But New Orleans couldn’t move and Kai Forbath missed a 38 yard field goal.
But New Orleans made another break when Jonathan Stewart was stripped of the football and rookie Stephone Anthony returned it 31 yards for a touchdown to increase the Saints lead to 14-0.
But Carolina came right back on a 11-play, 80-yard drive, culminating in a 14 yard touchdown pass from Newton to Mike Tolbert. Newton’s 30 yard run on fourth and one got Carolina into position.
Just before halftime, Carolina drove 74 yards on eleven plays, most of them on the ground, with Stewart getting the touchdown from five yards out. But Kevin Williams blocked Graham Gano’s extra point and Anthony returned it all the way for two points to give the Saints a 16-13 lead at the half. It was the first blocked PAT returned for two points in NFL history.
Carolina drove 79 yards after the second half kickoff as Newton found Ten Ginn, Jr. with a 13 yard touchdown pass to give Carolina the lead. The Saints’ Brandon Browner was penalized twice in the drive for 20 yards and Tolbert’s 29 yard run got Carolina into the red zone.
Carolina increased its lead and appeared to take control of the game on the next possession, driving 60 yards for another score as Newton threw his third touchdown pass of the day, this one covering 13 yards to Devin Funchess to increase the Carolina lead to 27-16.
But New Orleans came right back as Brees found Brandin Cooks behind the Carolina secondary for a 54 yard touchdown pass and Mark Ingram’s two point conversion got the Saints within three, 27-24 with under three minutes to play in the third quarter.
The Saints then took the lead on Brees’ third touchdown pass, this one for 24 yards to Brandon Coleman to put the Saints back on top. The Saints got a 37 yard pass interference call to get the ball into scoring position. Forbath’s PAT gave the Saints a four point lead, 31-27 with 11:34 to play in the game.
The lead only lasted four plays, however, as Newton threw his fourth touchdown pass of the day, finding Ginn behind Anthony for a 45 yard strike, putting Carolina back in front 34-31 with 11:54 remaining.
Two possessions later, Brees went to work again, leading the Saints on an eight play, 88-yard march, completing five passes and setting up Mark Ingram’s nine yard run and the Saints had the lead back, 37-34 with 5:21 remaining.
Brees finished the game 24-42 for 282 yards and the three scores. He was intercepted once.
Jonathan Stewart led the Panthers with 85 yards rushing on 21 carries with a touchdown. Ingram had 56 yards on 12 carries and one score for the Saints.
The Saints were penalized 11 times for 104 yards. Six of the penalties resulted in Carolina downs. The Panthers finished with 497 yards in total offense, compared to 334 for New Orleans.
The Saints (4-8) have lost four straight.  They travel to Tampa Bay next week.