Pan­thers beat Saints 23-20

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

CHAR­LOTTE: When Luke Kuechly was carted off the field with a con­cus­sion, the tears stream­ing down his face as he left, it ap­peared the Carolina Pan­thers might be ready for another col­lapse. Their de­fen­sive leader was gone and another big fourthquar­ter lead was crum­bling. In­stead, the Pan­thers did just enough to hold on and beat the New Or­leans Saints 23-20 on Thurs­day night in a game marred by in­juries to key play­ers. When Kuechly went down the lead was at 10, and play­ers gath­ered around him as he was put on a cart near mid­field.

Carolina would give up another score, but hold on for itsr third win in four games. “We rally be­hind that guy,” de­fen­sive end Charles John­son said about Kuechly. “He’s our leader. When you see a leader go down like that, we just rally be­hind him. I’m keep­ing Luke in my prayers.” The Pan­thers, who sur­ren­dered a 17-point lead and lost to the Kansas City Chiefs last week, en­tered the fourth quar­ter with a 23-3 lead be­fore in­juries be­gan to take their toll. Along with Kuechly, the Pan­thers lost two-time All-Pro cen­ter Ryan Kalil (shoul­der), top pass rusher Mario Ad­di­son (foot) and cor­ner­back Leonard John­son (chest) to in­juries. The Saints lost run­ning back Mark In­gram to a head in­jury in the third quar­ter.

“It was the Grim Reaper walk­ing around out there,” Pan­thers quar­ter­back Cam New­ton said. Saints quar­ter­back Drew Brees seemed to seize the mo­men­tum. Brees, who had been held to 171 yards and no touch­downs in the first three quar­ters, ral­lied the Saints back to 23-20 with touch­down passes to Bran­don Cole­man and Coby Fleener.

But an 18-yard re­cep­tion by Kelvin Ben­jamin on a third-and-10 with 2:39 left in the game proved piv­otal, tak­ing enough time off the clock where Brees only had 14 sec­onds to work with on his fi­nal drive. He couldn’t man­age to get his team into field goal range.

New­ton fin­ished 14 of 33 for 192 yards, in­clud­ing a 40-yard touch­down pass to Ted Ginn Jr. as the Pan­thers (4-6) pulled even with the Saints for third place in the NFC South. “Our mantra is to Keep Pound­ing and it speaks vol­umes in sit­u­a­tions like this,” New­ton said. “I will take an ugly win over a pretty loss.” Jonathan Ste­wart also ran for a touch­down and Gra­ham Gano had three field goals. Carolina’s next two games are on the West Coast - at Oakland and Seattle. “Hope­fully, the time off will give us enough time to heal up for this long road trip,” safety Kurt Cole­man said. “And also you won­der if it wasn’t a Thurs­day game and it was a Sun­day game, would there be these type of in­juries? You never know . ... I’m just go­ing to pray for ev­ery­body. Not only our team but their team.”

BET­TER DE­FENSE

Brees fin­ished with 285 yards pass­ing. That was a dra­matic dif­fer­ence from the last time the two teams met on Oct. 16 when Brees threw for 465 yards and four touch­downs in a 41-38 win over the Pan­thers.

“They did ex­actly what we hoped and that was keep the ball it in front of them,” Rivera said of his young sec­ondary. “You can’t ask for the guys to do a bet­ter job.”

KICK­ING WOES

Saints coach Sean Pay­ton was up­set af­ter the game about the team’s con­tin­u­ing strug­gles on spe­cial teams, in­clud­ing a blocked field goal that was re­turned 73 yards by Kuechly be­fore the half to set up Ginn’s touch­down catch. Last week the Saints lost to Den­ver when a po­ten­tial game-ty­ing ex­tra point was blocked and re­turned for a 2-point de­fen­sive con­ver­sion. “Fun­da­men­tally we’ve got to be able to kick an ex­tra point . ... We’ve got to be able to, you know, kick a field goal that’s a make­able one,” Pay­ton said. “We’ve just strug­gled in that area. It cost us at New York, it cost us last week­end (against) Den­ver and it cost us again tonight. And we’ve got to be smart enough in the game early to un­der­stand that the turnovers aren’t good.”

— AP

CHAR­LOTTE: Carolina Pan­thers’ Jonathan Ste­wart (28) dives over the goal line for a touch­down against the New Or­leans Saints in the first half of an NFL foot­ball game in Char­lotte, N.C., Thurs­day.

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