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Saints defeat Panthers to grab second seed in NFC

The Saints needed several things to happen to grab the top seed but only one they could control themselves.
Credit: AP
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marquez Callaway is tackled by Carolina Panthers cornerback Rasul Douglas during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

NEW ORLEANS — With several key players missing and no guarantee of improving their position with a win the Saints took a workman-like 33-7 win over Carolina Sunday, finishing the season unbeaten in the NFC South.

The Saints had an outside chance at the top seed but they needed Chicago to beat Green Bay and Seattle to defeat San Francisco. The Packers defeated a game Bears team, taking the bye with the top seed. 

The Saints finished with the second seed and will have a home game against the seventh-seeded Chicago Bears in the NFC wildcard round next weekend. 

The Saints were minus all of their normal starting running backs and several of their top receivers but Drew Brees made use of what he had – throwing for two touchdowns and watching Taysom Hill run for another. Meanwhile the defense came up with five interceptions, three of those of former teammate Teddy Bridgewater, who was minus several weapons of his own.

"I was proud of how we played tonight," said head coach Sean Payton. "A lot of guys had to step into positions they hadn't played before." 

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Brees threw for three touchdowns and hit on 22 of 32 passes for 201 yards. Emmanuel Sanders was his top target, catching 9 passes for 63 yards and a score. He got a nice bonus for his 60th catch of the year in the plot twist that the FOX broadcasters followed closely without a competitive game.

With Alvin Kamara and all of the regular running backs out after Kamara tested positive for COVID and the others were considered close contacts, Ty Montgomery had 18 carries for 105 yards in his first extensive play of the season. Taysom Hill added 7 carries for 41 more and a touchdown.

The fact that the Saints have overcome the loss of Drew Brees for four games, Mike Thomas - last year's Offensive Player of the Year - for all but a handful of games, Sanders, who stepped up big-time at receiver, says his coach should be given strong consideration for Coach of the Year honors.

"I think that’s a credit to Sean Payton. To me, (he’s) coach of the year. To see how he’s handled COVID and Drew being out and Mike (Thomas) being out… it’s a big credit to him."