After Newton spiked the ball, Hixon made a diving catch in the left side of the end zone, cradling the ball in his chest after beating cornerback Corey White. The catch set off a huge celebration that left the stadium shaking.
"I was 99 percent sure it was a catch," Hixon said with a grin.
The seldom-used Hixon came into the game with just three catches for 21 yards on the season.
"Cam was very resilient," coach Ron Rivera said. "He struggled all day and he knows that. But he came through when we needed him."
Carolina's defense kept the team in the game while the offense struggled, intercepting Brees twice and sacking him six times to avenge a 31-13 loss two weeks ago.
Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly had 24 tackles — tying an NFL record, according to STATS — and an interception while building his case for Defensive Player of the Year, and Greg Hardy had three sacks going up against rookie left tackle Terron Armstead.
"They're a good pass-rushing team," Brees said. "They did a good job of applying the pressure at times. They did a good job of covering some things downfield when we were trying to push the ball downfield. Maybe the result of that ended up being having to hold the ball a little bit longer and take sacks."
New Orleans took the lead with 6:37 left after Brees drove his team 97 yards in 11 plays, connecting on a 5-yard pass to Graham on a jump ball in the end zone. Graham caught three passes for 62 yards, including a 46-yard reception, on the series.
NOTES: Smith injured a knee ligament and he will need an MRI on Monday. He injured the knee in the first quarter then tried to return in the second but couldn't run on it. ... The Saints lost safety Kenny Vaccaro for the game in the second quarter when he was carted off with a left lower leg injury.