The Carolina Panthers won the coin toss and chose to receive to kick off the 2012 season finale at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Panthers were able to strike first after both teams were forced to punt on their opening possessions. QB Cam Newton led a 15-play, 76 yard, drive that took Carolina all the way down to the New Orleans two-yard line. The Saints defense stepped up with their backs at the endzone and forced a Carolina field goal attempt. K Graham Gano booted the 20-yard try through the uprights and gave the Panthers an early 3-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Panthers were able to add to their lead with a quick drive in the second quarter. Following a Saints punt, Newton completed a 16-yard pass to WR Brandon LaFell and RB DeAngelo Williams was able to break through the middle and rush for a 65-yard gain before being chased down at the New Orleans one-yard line by S Roman Harper. RB Mike Tolbert took the ball into the endzone for the Panthers on the next play and Gano gave Carolina a 10-0 lead.
The Saints were able to answer on their next possession though as QB Drew Brees was able to make some key completions. After two carries by RB Mark Ingram picked up 21 yards, Brees found WR Lance Moore for a deep 39-yard completion that moved the black and gold deep into Carolina territory. Brees finished the drive with three consecutive completions including a fourth down pass to WR Marques Colston for a seven-yard touchdown. K Garret Hartley added the extra point to bring the game within three points in the second quarter.
Then, on the second play of the next drive, Newton was intercepted by LB Jonathan Vilma. Vilma took the interception 18 yards into the endzone for a Saints touchdown. Hartley added on one more and gave the Saints the team’s first lead of the day, 14-10, before the two-minute warning.
The Panthers were able to move down the field one two big plays that gave Gano a chance at another field goal before the halftime break. Gano made a 31-yard kick but the Panthers left too much time on the clock.
Brees was able to complete passes of more than 10 yards to Moore, TE Jimmy Graham and RB Darren Sproles to pick up quick first downs. The precision by Brees gave Hartley one final chance for points before halftime and Hartley put a 53-yard field goal through the uprights to increase the Saints lead to 17-13 at halftime.
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