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Saints hold off Panthers’ late charge

The Associated Press

New Orleans Saints cornerback Ken Crawley, left, breaks up a pass in the end zone for Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen in the first half of Sunday’s playoff game in New Orleans.

The Associated PressNEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan grinned playfully as he glanced up at a bottle of red wine in the top shelf of his locker and asked if anyone knew Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s address.

A bottle with the name “Jordan” on the label — even if it isn’t made by the Saints star’s family — might be the last thing Newton wants right now.

Drew Brees and his receiving corps came through when Carolina stifled New Orleans’ prolific backfield, and a relentless Jordan spearheaded a late defensive stand to seal a 31-26 an NFC wild-card round victory on Sunday.

“You can’t be more happy about the way we played in terms of how we finished the game,” Jordan said. “We almost let them back in the game, but here I am standing as winner. Here I am, as a Cam Jordan, sending Cam Newton a bottle of Jordan wine.”

Brees passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns, but one more completion would have considerably lowered the stress level on the Saints’ sideline. Coach Sean Payton kept the offense on the field on fourth-and-short with two minutes remaining and Carolina out of timeouts, hoping for one more first down that would have allowed New Orleans to run out the clock.

But Brees couldn’t find an open receiver, was flushed out of the pocket and decided his best option was to throw it up for grabs. It was intercepted by safety Mike Adams, which turned out better for New Orleans than an incompletion because it meant the Panthers had to start from their own 31 instead of mid-field.

Still, Newton completed three straight passes to move the Panthers to the Saints’ 26-yard line with 58 seconds left before New Orleans’ resistance stiffened.

“I’m frustrated,” Newton said. “I hate that I couldn’t do enough to get a win today for a lot of guys that I think so highly of.

“I just have to be better,” he added. “I’m not going to take the cowardly way and point somebody else out.”

The comeback bid began to fizzle when Jordan induced an intentional grounding penalty on Newton, making it third-and-25 on the Saints 34 and requiring a 10-second runoff that left 20 seconds on the clock.

After an incompletion in the end zone, Vonn Bell sacked Newton on a safety blitz, ensuring the Saints (12-5) swept all three meetings with Carolina (11-6) this season, in addition to winning the first postseason game they’ve played in four seasons.

“The coaches wanted to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands fast,” Bell said. “They dialed it up and I said, ‘Go make a play.’”

Brees’ touchdowns went for 80 yards to Ted Ginn and 9 yards to tight end Josh Hill. Fullback Zach line and running back Alvin Kamara each ran for short touchdowns, the latter set up by Michael Thomas’ 46-yard reception.

Newton finished 24 of 40 passing for 349 yards and two touchdowns.

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