CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Saints’ offense is potent enough with Drew Brees.
But if they continue to get big games on the ground from Mark Ingram, they may just leave the rest of the weak NFC South in the dust.
Brees threw for 297 yards and a touchdown and also ran for another score, and Ingram turned in another strong performance carrying 30 times for 100 yards and two TDs, and New Orleans defeated the Carolina Panthers 28-10 Thursday night to take over first place in the NFC South.
Brees praised Ingram, who was coming off 172 yards rushing last week against Green Bay, for “carrying the load” and being the catalyst for the Saints’ recent turnaround the past two weeks.
“Man, it’s when our offense is at its best,” Brees said of the Saints’ running game.
The Saints (4-4) piled up 375 yards to snap a seven-game losing streak on the road that dated back to last November.
Brees said too much is made of the team’s road woes, but he knows it wasn’t going away until the Saints could find a way to win a big game on the road.
Brees finished 24 of 34 and tight end Jimmy Graham had seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.
But it was Ingram who kept the Panthers off balance by picking up key first downs.
“The offensive line and tight end did a great job of hitting them, hitting them and hitting them,” Ingram said. “I think they started to wear down and we were able to get some leaky yards and some big gains.”
The struggling defending NFC South champion Panthers (3-5-1) have only won once in their past seven games after opening the season with back-to-back wins. They have 10 days before their next game to figure out how to turn things around.
“We know we are better – simple as that,” Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. “It’s nothing that someone has to say that hasn’t already been said. It’s a lot that hasn’t been done yet.”
Brees said he didn’t let the team’s road struggles creep into his mind, even after he threw an interception and fumbled in the first quarter.
He settled down late in the second, leading touchdown drives on four of the next five possessions.
The Saints’ defense did its part, sacking Newton four times and forcing two turnovers. Newton, who spent much of the night under heavy duress playing behind an offensive line without three of its regular starters, was limited to 151 yards passing.
Carolina had opportunities to seize momentum after New Orleans’ first two turnovers, but couldn’t capitalize.
That’s nothing new. The Panthers had three trips in the red zone last week against Seattle, but came away with only six points.
“It’s hard when you don’t take advantage of those opportunities,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
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