NEW ORLEANS – Thank goodness for Cam Jordan. The Saints All-Pro player forced Panthers QB Cam Newton into a crucial intentional grounding penalty as the team was holding on for dear life as the Saints held on to beat Carolina 31-26 Sunday to advance to a divisional playoff game against Minnesota.

The key play, which came after Sean Payton went for it on 4th and 2 on near midfield only to have Drew Brees picked off on a rare bad throw, helped force the Panthers into two desperation tries into the end zone.

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Jordan had been one of the few stalwarts on the Saints defense, constantly pushing the Panthers into the backfield on the run and having a key sack of Newton during a pivotal second half drive.

Meanwhile, on offense, the Saints got vintage Drew Brees. The Pro Bowl quarterback, who will turn 39 in just over a week, put on a clinic as the Panthers pretty much shut down the Saints Pro Bowl running back tandem of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.

“We have a lot of ways to be effective- a lot of weapons to spread the ball around," said Brees. "All the receivers did a great job today. The ball was spread around quite a bit and the guys were making plays when they had the chances.”

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Brees was 23 of 33 for 376 yards and two touchdowns and he made every kind of throw – a TD bomb to Ted Ginn early in the game, back shoulder throws, passes to tight end Josh Hill over the middle, to Michael Thomas on the outside – and the team needed every one of them.

"We wanted it more," said Jordan after the game to FOX reporter Erin Andrews. "They've been to the Super Bowl (recently). People wrote us off at 0-2."

Following the heart-stopping game, Payton and the team was shown in a jubilant locker room, handing the team a broom to symbolize the team's three-game sweep of the Panthers.

Early in the game, the Saints could not stop the Panthers from scoring, but they were able to keep most of the drives to field goal attempts - four that were made and one that was missed - while the Saints were scoring touchdowns to build a 21-12 lead.

"I thought the early part of the game, when we were holding them to field goals, ultimately would prove most valuable," said Payton, in an understatement.