Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton drew a personal foul for shoving Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and didn't regret it.
New Orleans' defensive captain may have succeeded in standing up to behavior he viewed as disrespectful. As for stopping Newton and the Panthers from piling up yards and points, there didn't seem to be much Lofton or any of his teammates could do.
Newton passed for three touchdowns, appeared to incite a scuffle when he dived over the pile for another score, and Carolina ended a six-game skid with a 41-10 rout of the Saints on Sunday.
"We were embarrassed," Lofton said. "We apologize to our fans and coaches.
"It was bad, bad football today," he added.
Jonathan Stewart added a 69-yard touchdown run as the Panthers (4-8-1) pulled closer to NFC South leader Atlanta (5-7), which plays at Green Bay on Monday night.
Newton's jawing and "Superman" celebration after his 2-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter drew Lofton's shove, igniting a scrum that burst through a closed gate behind the goal post and into a tunnel.
Newton chalked up the extracurricular roughness to nothing more than "a lot of testosterone on that field at one time."
Panthers tight end Brandon Williams was ejected for punching defensive end Cam Jordan. Although Lofton was flagged, he was allowed to stay in the game and said he'd respond to Newton's actions the same way "100 times out of 100."
"It was taunting," Lofton said. "I saw it as straight disrespect and I did what I thought I had to do."
Newton's scoring passes went for 9 yards to Kelvin Benjamin, 16 yards to tight end Greg Olsen and 26 yards to running back Fozzy Whitaker.
New Orleans (5-8) lost its fourth straight home game and dropped a half-game behind Atlanta.
Saints coach Sean Payton called the loss "embarrassing," and emphasized that he'll be eager to review the coaches' film of the game.
"We've got to look closely at everything — preparation, who we're asking to do it," Payton said. "We're not that good. That's painfully obvious."
The Saints turned the ball over on two of their first three offensive plays. Mark Ingram's fumble on the New Orleans 25 — forced by Josh Norman and recovered by Colin Cole — led to a field goal. Bene Benwikere's interception of Drew Brees led to Newton's rushing TD.
The Panthers, who entered with a league-low 30 first-quarter points all season, scored 17 points inside the first nine minutes.
Brees was 29 of 49 for 235 yards and one late TD to tight end Ben Watson. Afterward, Brees said the Saints haven't responded well to adversity this season.
"We need to be more professional," Brees said. "Certainly, a loss like that is embarrassing. That's not what we're about."
Newton was 21 of 33 for 226 yards, was not sacked and was not intercepted. Newton also rushed for 83 yards, but downplayed the part he played in those gains, saying the Saints left him wide open rushing lanes.
"I feel as if anybody could have run it," Newton said. "There were no moves I made. I wasn't touched until I got in the secondary."
Stewart finished with 155 yards rushing on 20 carries as the Panthers piled up 271 yards on the ground.
The Panthers' points total was their highest of the season, surpassing the 37 they scored in an overtime tie at Cincinnati.
Carolina's 497 total yards also were easily a season high, albeit against a Saints defense that entered the game ranked second-to-last in the NFL.
Carolina scored on its opening possession for only the second time all season, driving 80 yards on seven plays, capped by Benjamin's touchdown.
Olsen's TD gave the Panthers a 24-3 lead that stood at halftime. Boos rained down on the Saints as they trotted to the locker room, and again when they began the second half by punting after three plays.
When Whittaker turned a screen pass into a touchdown to make it 38-3 with a little more than five minutes left in the third quarter, much of the Superdome emptied out.
NOTES: Saints LT Terron Armstead left with a neck injury in the first half and OLB Junior Galette limped off the field favoring his right leg in the second quarter. ... Saints C Jonathan Goodwin was helped off the field with an apparent leg injury late in the fourth quarter.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL