Saints' D puts clamps on Newton in 12-9 win over Panthers

Saints' D puts clamps on Newton in 12-9 win over Panthers
New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees (9) scrambles against the Carolina Panthers in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek) (Jason E. Miczek)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints still have one of the league's top-scoring offenses, but lately it's the defense that's been carrying the NFL's most complete team.

On a night when Brees and the offense couldn't get much going and made some uncharacteristic mistakes, New Orleans put the clamps on Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in a 12-9 victory on Monday night, moving the Saints into position to lock up home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

"I believe in us, game in and game out, first quarter to fourth quarter," defensive end Cam Jordan said. "If it comes down to a crucial play, I believe in us."

The Saints (12-2) held an opponent to 17 points or fewer for a sixth straight game. They limited Newton to 131 yards passing, sacked him four times and forced two turnovers. Carolina (6-8), which lost its sixth straight, had just 247 yards and 13 first downs. The Panthers' only scores came on a trick play on fourth down and an interception return on a 2-point conversion attempt.

"So proud of the defense," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I thought they were outstanding. It's tough to win a division game on the road and we were able to do that."

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton, center right, celebrates with Chris Manhertz (82) after their touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)
Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton, center right, celebrates with Chris Manhertz (82) after their touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek) (AP)

Alvin Kamara had 103 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, and Brees had 203 yards passing for the Saints, who took a one-game lead in the NFC over the Rams. The Saints close the season at home against Pittsburgh and Carolina; the Rams visit Arizona and host San Francisco.

Newton struggled throwing the ball more than 10 yards downfield because of a lingering sore right shoulder. He said after the game he's unsure what the injury is, but he mentioned his labrum and rotator cuff as possible issues. He has been limited in practice for weeks and doesn't have the zip on the ball he normally has.

So much for his boast that the Panthers were bringing a cup to steal the "juice" from the Saints.

Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey (22) evades a tackle by New Orleans Saints' A.J. Klein (53) in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey (22) evades a tackle by New Orleans Saints' A.J. Klein (53) in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) (AP)

"(Newton) said something along the lines of they brought their own cup, a juice box or something, I don't know what it was," Jordan said. "But I do know that he's got to go back to the refrigerator and pull out a bigger cup."

The Saints swept three games from the Panthers last season and knocked them out of the playoffs, prompting Jordan to send Newton a bottle of red wine in the offseason, while some other teammates gave him a broom. This loss likely ended Carolina's playoff hopes again.

Newton said his shoulder simply isn't getting better — or worse — and he refused to blame the injury, saying, "I have to be better."

New Orleans Saints' Mark Ingram (22) runs against the Carolina Panthers in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
New Orleans Saints' Mark Ingram (22) runs against the Carolina Panthers in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) (AP)

"Our defense played a hell of a game and we have to reward them," Newton said. "We had two turnovers in the red zone and that comes down to execution."

TRICK PLAYS

The Panthers struck first after offensive coordinator Norv Turner dug into his bag of tricks.

Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly, top left, leaps over the line to sack New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees (9) in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly, top left, leaps over the line to sack New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees (9) in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) (AP)

On a fourth-and-2 from midfield, Christian McCaffrey got a handoff, took a step toward the line, then stepped back and lofted a perfect pass over the middle to tight end Chris Manhertz, who was 15 yards behind the defense. Manhertz trotted into the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. It was McCaffrey's first career pass attempt, although he threw two TD passes while at Stanford. He became the first non-QB to throw a TD pass in Panthers history.

APPLE'S PICK

Eli Apple intercepted Newton in the end zone with 10 seconds left in the first half.

Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey (22) runs past New Orleans Saints' A.J. Klein (53) in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)
Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey (22) runs past New Orleans Saints' A.J. Klein (53) in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek) (AP)

"I knew they were going to take a shot," Apple said. "They ran a fade route. I just tried to get my head around and make a play on the ball."

COSTLY TURNOVERS

The Panthers held the Saints in check for most of the third quarter, but the game changed when Panthers receiver D.J. Moore fumbled on an inside handoff. The Saints pounced, capping an 84-yard drive with a 16-yard TD run by Kamara to make it 12-7 early in the fourth quarter. The Saints went for 2, but Brees' toss was intercepted by Donte Jackson, who took it back nearly 100 yards.

New Orleans Saints' Alvin Kamara (41) is tackled by Carolina Panthers' Kawann Short (99) in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)
New Orleans Saints' Alvin Kamara (41) is tackled by Carolina Panthers' Kawann Short (99) in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek) (AP)

That wasn't the only time the Saints cost themselves a scoring opportunity. New Orleans was on the verge of taking the lead late in the second quarter, but James Bradberry intercepted Brees' tipped pass and returned it to Saints territory.

And New Orleans whiffed on a potential game-sealing touchdown when Tommylee Lewis fumbled near the goal line, leading to a touchback that gave Carolina one last chance to tie the game with 1:44 remaining. But the Panthers couldn't move the ball and turned it over on downs.

McCAFFREY SETS MARK

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) scrambles as New Orleans Saints' Demario Davis (56) pursues in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)
Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) scrambles as New Orleans Saints' Demario Davis (56) pursues in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek) (AP)

McCaffrey broke DeAngelo Williams' single-season franchise record of 1,636 yards from scrimmage with a rush in the first quarter. He finished with 110 yards rushing and receiving.

DUBIOUS STREAK

The loss extended the Panthers' streak of never having posted back-to-back winning seasons since joining the NFL in 1995.

New Orleans Saints' Demario Davis (56) celebrates his sack of Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton, left, in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)
New Orleans Saints' Demario Davis (56) celebrates his sack of Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton, left, in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek) (AP)

OLSEN UPDATE

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen had surgery on his right foot Monday, his second procedure on the foot in the last 16 months. "Surgery went well and I am on my way towards a full recovery," Olsen wrote on Instagram.

INJURIES

Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey (22) runs against the New Orleans Saints in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey (22) runs against the New Orleans Saints in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) (AP)

Saints center Max Unger left the game in the first half after being evaluated for a concussion and did not return. He was replaced by Cameron Tom.

UP NEXT

Saints: Host the Steelers on Sunday.

New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees (9) warms up before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)
New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees (9) warms up before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek) (AP)

Panthers: Host the Falcons on Sunday.

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