Brees throws 4 TDs as Saints rout Panthers

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New Orleans, LA ( - A trip back into the comforts of its own dome was exactly what New Orleans needed.

Drew Brees surgically picked apart the Carolina Panthers' top-ranked defense and the Saints drew first blood in the first of two critical meetings between the NFC South squads in three weeks.

Brees tossed four touchdown passes and the Saints snapped the Panthers' eight- game winning streak and regained solo possession of first place in the NFC South with a 31-13 victory.

Brees was stymied to 147 yards passing in the Saints' 34-7 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle on Monday night, but he responded by throwing for 313 yards on 30-of-42 efficiency against the Panthers.

New Orleans tallied three touchdowns in the second quarter against a Carolina defense that hadn't allowed more than two in a single game this season. Brees was 14-of-16 for 159 yards in the frame.

The Panthers' defense came in allowing just 13.1 points per game.

Brees became the fastest player -- fifth player overall -- to eclipse the 50,000-yard passing mark in the triumph.

Marques Colston had nine receptions for 125 yards and two scores, while Jimmy Graham added a pair of TD catches for the Saints (10-3), who moved to 7-0 at the Superdome this year and will travel to Carolina in two weeks.

"We just had great balance," Brees said. "Marques came up with some huge catches, as did Jimmy."

Junior Galette notched three of the Saints' five sacks.

Cam Newton completed 22-of-34 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown for Carolina (9-4), which hadn't tasted defeat since falling to the Arizona Cardinals 22-6 in Glendale on Oct. 6.

"We're a better team than we played today," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "We'll see how things go when they come to Carolina."

The Panthers totaled 74 yards on their opening two drives of the game and held the ball for 11:30 in the first quarter, but had to settle for a pair of field goals.

Newton picked up a trio of third downs on the initial series. He threw an 11- yard completion to Brandon LaFell on a 3rd-and-2, scrambled for 19 yards on the ensuing 3rd-and-6 and hit Steve Smith for an 11-yard pass play on a 3rd- and-9.

Galette, though, sacked Newton on the next third down, a 3rd-and-4, and Graham Gano nailed a 45-yard field goal. Following a New Orleans three-and- out, Ted Ginn's 32-yard punt return led to a 24-yard Gano boot.

Carolina tallied just 17 yards of offense over the remainder of the first half and the Saints surged ahead with 21 unanswered points in the second.

Brees flipped a 21-yard completion to Colston to move the chains on a 3rd-and-9 before Darren Sproles broke off a 38-yard run down the left sideline. Brees capped the 9-play, 80-yard march when he tossed a 6-yard TD pass to Colston early in the second.

Following a Carolina punt, Brees and the Saints offense matriculated the ball 86 yards in 11 plays as Colston hauled in a 15-yard TD reception to finish off the trek with 2:44 left in the half.

The Panthers then went three-and-out and the Saints swiftly moved into Carolina territory in just two plays.

Starting at the 24 with 2:01 on the clock, Brees hit Lance Moore for a 21-yard gain and Colston for 19 more to move the ball to the Panthers' 36. Sproles then navigated his way for 20 more yards on a screen before Brees found Graham for a 5-yard score three plays later with 18 ticks left and help the Saints take a 21-6 advantage into the break.

After Gano sailed a 49-yard field goal wide right on Carolina's first possession of the second half, the Saints put three more points on the board when Garrett Hartley split the uprights from 19 yards out. Colston initially hauled in an 11-yard TD pass, but the call was overturned following a review and the stingy Panthers defense stood strong as New Orleans had three opportunities to punch the ball in from the 1-yard line.

Graham caught an 8-yard TD pass early in the fourth to make it 31-6 and Steve Smith's 17-yard TD catch with 5:15 left capped the scoring.

Game Notes

New Orleans was 7-of-12 on third down, while Carolina finished 6-of-15 ... The Saints outgained the Panthers, 373-239 ... Brees has 23 touchdown passes and just three interceptions this season at the Superdome.