Panthers come from behind to beat Saints 44-38

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 31, 2012 at 4:04 am •  Published: December 31, 2012
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Brees was still perturbed that his 19th interception, which wound up tying with Dallas' Tony Romo for the most in the NFL, led to the score that put the Panthers ahead to stay in the third quarter.

Brees predicted Payton, who was suspended this season in connection with the NFL's bounty probe, will return this winter with ideas of how to clean up the errors that doomed the Saints this season.

"It's going to be an eye-opener for some people, I'm sure, as it should be, because this is not our standard, what happened this year," Brees said. "Sean's going to come in chomping at the bit and we're going to have to be ready to roll. This offseason can't come fast enough."

Payton, who agreed to a contract extension through 2017, is expected to return to work after the Super Bowl is played in New Orleans on Feb. 3.

Although the Saints' defense had a rough day, the unit gave New Orleans its first lead, 14-10, when Vilma intercepted Newton and ran 18 yards for a touchdown. The Superdome crowd roared in support of Vilma, a central figure in the bounty scandal who initially had been suspended the whole season. He never served one game of the ban after he, defensive end Will Smith, and former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove fought successfully to have their suspensions of various lengths overturned.

Leading 24-13, the Saints looked ready to seize control in the third quarter. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen fumbled along the sideline in Carolina territory, and defensive back Johnny Patrick appeared to recover. Initially, the play was blown dead and Olsen ruled down. Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt challenged the call, and the play was ruled a fumble, but Patrick's right foot was so close to the sideline that referee Al Riveron could not determine if the Saints took possession.

The ball remained with the Panthers, and Williams ran for his long TD soon afterward.

Two of Brees' scoring passes went to Marques Colston for 7 and 9 yards. He also hit tight end Jimmy Graham for a 19-yard score and Darren Sproles for a 33-yard TD in the fourth quarter as the Saints, who trailed 41-24 with 8:23 left, nearly mounted a late comeback.