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NEW ORLEANS – Drew Brees often makes the extraordinary look routine, particularly during night games in the Superdome.
Sometimes even the best defenses don't stand a chance. Carolina's didn't on Sunday night, when the Saints rolled to a 31-13 triumph in which New Orleans took back sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
The Panthers hadn't given up more than two touchdowns in a game all season and ranked first in scoring defense, but Brees passed for three scores in the second quarter alone and finished with four during a 30-completion, 313-yard outing.
In the process, Brees became only fifth quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 50,000 career yards. The milestone was acknowledged with an announcement over the Superdome sound system, with Brees nodding and smiling after seeing his face on stadium video boards.
Saints coach Sean Payton was amused by how matter-of-fact it all seemed, and ribbed Brees about it in the locker room during his postgame speech.
"We were kidding him in there that a lot of places, if the quarterback hits 50,000 yards, they would have fireworks, stop the game," Payton said. "To be in that class ... really hits on his consistency, his durability, his availability, along with his skill set. We are happy for him, obviously proud of him."
The Panthers, meanwhile, saw their eight-game winning streak come to a humbling halt.
Not only was their defense carved up like never before this season, but their offense struggled to move the ball.
Cam Newton was sacked five times and finished 22 of 34 for only 160 yards, his second-lowest passing total of the season.
Carolina (9-4) will have a chance to redeem itself when it hosts New Orleans (10-3) on Dec. 22.
"We have to learn from it," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "We still have a lot of football left to play and a lot still left on the line."
Here are five things we learned from the Saints demolition of the Panthers:
MOVING ON: The Saints proved they could put a bad game to bed quickly and regroup. Last Monday night, they were pounded 34-7 in Seattle then had a flight delay, further compressing their preparations for Carolina. By the time Sunday night arrived, the Saints looked like the same dominant team they've been all year at home, where they are 7-0.
TOUGH LOVE: The Panthers showed they are as vulnerable as any team to a lopsided loss — at least in a tough road environment. They were disappointed, but hardly devastated. They look at the way the Saints bounced back from their loss to the Seahawks and expect to do the same.
"Some tough love and us getting hit in the mouth might not be the worst thing in the world, as moving forward these games for us are going to get bigger and bigger," Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross said. "The sky isn't falling."
CLUTCH COLSTON: Now in his eighth season, former seventh-round draft choice Marques Colston continues to prove he can be a difference maker against top defenses. He led all receivers with nine catches for 125 yards and two TDs. Payton said the only reason Colston doesn't have such numbers more often is because how the Saints spread the ball around to multiple targets.
"The way we utilize receivers doesn't help in regards to postseason accolades ... but I'm glad we have him," Payton said.
SETTLING: Carolina may need to sharpen its red zone execution. The Panthers moved the ball well in the first quarter, twice reaching the New Orleans 20, only to settle for field goals. A sack stalled one drive and Newton threw an incompletion on third-and-goal from the 6 on another.
"Playing a team like (the Saints), field goals just aren't going to cut it," Newton said. "We are just going to have to come back (Monday) and watch the film and get a lot better at that."
PRESSURING PAIR: The Saints appear to have their best pass rush off the edge in years thanks to third-year pro Cameron Jordan and fourth-year player Junior Galette, who've combined for 20 sacks. Jordan's two sacks gave him 11 this season, making him the first Saint with double-digit sacks since Will Smith in 2009. Galette sacked Newton three times to bring his total to a career-high nine.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org