NEW ORLEANS – John Carney could not have asked for a better start to his 23rd season as an NFL kicker.
Only days after rejoining the Saints at age 46, Carney hit three field goals to help New Orleans edge the Carolina Panthers 16-14 on Sunday.
The Saints signed Carney last Tuesday, two days after Garrett Hartley had missed a 29-yard field goal in overtime in a 27-24 loss to Atlanta.
While the Saints were able to manage only one touchdown on a screen pass to Lance Moore, Carney hit twice from 32 yards and again from 25 with 3:55 to go to put New Orleans (3-1) ahead to stay.
Drew Brees was 33 of 48 for 275 yards passing and the TD to Moore.
Carolina rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen completed 11 of 20 passes for 146 yards, highlighted by his 55-yard scoring strike to Jonathan Stewart. DeAngelo Williams' 39-yard TD run gave Carolina (0-4) a 14-10 lead in the third quarter before Carney made his last two field goals.
Clausen came close to pulling off the game-winning drive. He converted a fourth-and-4 play on a rollout pass to David Gettis along the sideline at the New Orleans 38 with 1:46 to go.
A few more yards could have gotten Carolina in range for a field goal to win it, but after Williams gained 2 yards on the next play, he was dropped by Usama Young for a 4-yard loss on the play after that.
Malcolm Jenkins then sacked Clausen, setting up a fourth-down play from the New Orleans 44 in the final seconds.
Clausen's pass for Dwyane Jarrett was broken up by Jabari Greer with 8 seconds to go, allowing the Saints to avoid what would have been a major upset by a winless team that came in as a 13-point underdog. The victory also kept the Saints even with Atlanta atop the NFC South.
Playing without running back Pierre Thomas, who hurt his left ankle in the loss to Atlanta, the Saints relied on rookie Chris Ivory and veteran Ladell Betts, who was signed less than two weeks ago after Reggie Bush fractured a bone in his lower right leg.
Ivory finished with 67 yards on 12 carries while Betts rushed 13 times for 47 yards. Betts also had four catches for 23 yards. Devery Henderson had 59 yards receiving on six catches, while Jeremy Shockey had 58 yards, also on six catches.
Williams finished with 86 yards rushing for Carolina, which amassed 118 yards rushing.
The Saints might have made it a rout in the first half, when they outgained the Panthers 235 yards to 108, but two turnovers cost them. One promising New Orleans drive stalled when Moore fumbled on a hit by Sherrod Martin at the Carolina 1 and Martin recovered in the end zone.
Another drive ended when rookie running back Chris Ivory fumbled on a hit by Richard Marshall, who also recovered on the Carolina 21.
Late in the second quarter, the Saints had to settle for Carney's first field goal. Hartley, who remains on the roster but was scratched for this game, watched from the sideline as Carney hit from 32 yards.
The Saints were struggling to move the ball in third quarter, but long-snapper Jason Kyle made a big hit on punt coverage to force a fumble by Captain Munnerlyn, which Courtney Roby recovered. That set up Carney's second field goal to make it 14-13 late in the third quarter.