Saints take care of Panthers, still hope for playoff bye
The New Orleans Saints took care of business against the reeling Carolina Panthers and finished off a 13-3 regular season but still might not get a week of rest in the playoffs.
Drew Brees threw for 253 yards and three touchdowns, Alvin Kamara ran for two scores and the Saints handed the Panthers their eighth straight loss, 42-10 on Sunday.
But the runaway NFC South champions’ chances at home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs ended when Green Bay beat Detroit on a last-second field goal. New Orleans needs Seattle to beat San Francisco on Sunday night to earn a first-round bye. If the 49ers win, the Saints will be the No. 3 seed and host the Minnesota Vikings in the wild-card round next weekend.
The only thing that went right for the Panthers (5-11) was Christian McCaffrey joining Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the third player in NFL history to record 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. McCaffrey needed 67 yards receiving coming in and got there with a 17-yard reception late in the third quarter, earning some bear hugs from teammates on the sideline and a standing ovation from the scattered fans remaining in the seats.
Any suspense about the outcome of the game ended much earlier.
The Saints took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards on eight plays to take a 7-0 lead on Kamara’s 15-yard touchdown run. Kamara added a second TD run later in the quarter, and former Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein made it a three-touchdown lead when he picked off rookie quarterback Will Grier and returned it 14 yards for a TD early in the second quarter.
Grier left the game on Carolina’s next possession with a foot injury, finishing with a 0.0 quarterback rating on 1 of 8 passing for 4 yards. He was replaced by Kyle Allen.
Brees added TD passes of 1 yard to Tre’Quan Smith and 21 yards to Jared Cook to make it 35-0 in the second quarter, prompting Panthers interim coach Perry Fewell to remove perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly from the game to prevent injury. Brees threw for one more score, a 45-yard strike to Taysom Hill with 4:24 left in the third quarter to make it 42-3 before being replaced by Teddy Bridgewater.
McCaffrey finished the season with 2,387 yards from scrimmage, fourth most in NFL history. He left the game late in the third quarter following his 19th touchdown of the season.
Saints: Played without three starters in the secondary — cornerback Eli Apple (ankle) and safeties Vonn Bell (knee) and Marcus Williams (groin).
Panthers: Played without 1,000-yard receiver D.J. Moore (concussion) and linebacker Shaq Thompson (shoulder/foot).
Panthers: Will make a decision on their next head coach in the coming weeks. Ron Rivera was fired with four games left in the season. Former Packers coach Mike McCarthy and Baylor coach Matt Rhule are candidates along with Fewell, but the Panthers are expected to interview several assistant coaches still in the playoff hunt.
Saints: Advance to the NFC playoffs for the third straight season.