CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Drew Brees looked every bit like one of the NFL's best passers as he calmly marched the New Orleans Saints downfield for the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.
Cam Newton couldn't quite match Brees when he got his chance, falling short once again in what is becoming a frustrating pattern for the Carolina Panthers and the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Brees found Pierre Thomas wide open on the right side for a 6-yard touchdown with 50 seconds left, helping the Saints rally past the Panthers 30-27 on Sunday for their fourth straight win.
Brees threw for 359 yards and two touchdowns, including that nearly flawless final drive in which he completed 8 of 9 passes for 80 yards to take back momentum after Newton and the Panthers (1-4) had taken their first lead earlier in the period. Making it even more impressive, the drive lasted more than six minutes and left Carolina with little time to answer.
``Calm, cool, collected,' Brees said of the Saints' mentality entering the final drive. ``We've been here many times before, which we have. Let's just go be us. Let's do what we do. Nothing spectacular, but just methodical.'
Compare that to Newton, who led consecutive touchdown drives late in the third quarter and early in the fourth that put the Panthers ahead 27-23. But after getting the ball back with 10 minutes left to increase the lead, Newton could lead the Panthers only to around midfield before punting back to Brees to set up the winning drive.
After Brees' TD toss, the Panthers again reached only to around midfield before Newton's desperation heave downfield fell incomplete on the final play.
Newton threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead 5-yard scoring pass to Greg Olsen for the 27-23 lead with 12:32 to play. He also scored on a sneak late in the third quarter but Carolina ended up with its fourth loss by seven or fewer points.
Afterward, Newton sat motionless for several minutes facing his locker, his head in his hands as he stared down at the floor. Smith sat in the chair to his right, quietly talking with the rookie.
For Newton, it was a lesson to ``value each possession,' from throwing an interception on his first pass to set up the Saints' first touchdown to coming up empty on his last two drives. He also noted how the Saints held the ball 10 minutes longer than the Panthers.
``Look at the ball control and how long those guys kept the ball, it's unbelievable,' Newton said. ``You get the ball in the early part of the quarter and you look up during your next drive and it's the end of the quarter.'
Mark Ingram also ran for a second-quarter touchdown for the Saints (4-1), while Brees found Jed Collins for a short scoring pass about a minute into the game. But Brees' biggest target was tight end Jimmy Graham, who had eight catches for 129 yards and repeatedly beat undersized defenders to the ball for his third straight 100-yard receiving game.
In addition, Saints kicker John Kasay - who was on the first Panthers squad in 1995 and stayed with the team until last season - had three field goals in his return to Charlotte.
``We just found a way to win this game, and that's pretty important,' Saints coach Sean Payton said. ``You learn a lot about your team in that type of environment.'
A near-brawl in the first quarter after a 54-yard touchdown catch by Smith made things a little testier between division rivals.
Newton stepped up in the pocket - aided by a block from Jonathan Stewart that flipped blitzer Jonathan Vilma over his shoulder - and fired a high pass downfield to Smith. Smith jumped to beat cornerback Jabari Greer to the pass, knocking Greer to the ground and giving Smith an easy 30-yard run to the end zone.
But as Smith coasted the final 5 yards and crossed the goal line, safety Roman Harper sprinted in on the left side and leveled Smith with a hard hit.
Smith immediately jumped up and spun the ball to the turf defiantly while players from both sides ran down and began shoving each other. Smith then locked up with Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, shoving him to the ground and standing over him while holding a firm grip on Jenkins' facemask before the scuffle finally ended.
Harper's late hit was the only penalty called.
``If you're going to score, go score, but a guy is not going to try and just walk it in on us like that,' Harper said. ``You're going to have to pay for it as you get past the goal line.'
Notes: Carolina's DeAngelo Williams had a 69-yard touchdown run on an option pitch from Newton in the second quarter. ... The game was a matchup of the past two Heisman Trophy winners in Newton and Ingram from rivals Auburn and Alabama. ... Saints receiver Marques Colston had five catches for 69 yards in his second game back from a broken collar bone.
The Associated Press News Service
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