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.
The Saints began the second half with the football and wasted no time in adding to their lead. Brees completed a 51-yard strike to Moore on the third play of the drive and wasn’t stopped the rest of the way. Brees then found Graham for a 19-yard touchdown to give the Saints a two-score lead. Hartley added the extra point to increase the lead to 24-13.
The long pass to Moore put the receiver over the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career. The touchdown connection to Graham put Brees over 5,000 yards for his third time, the sixth time in NFL history.
The Panthers were able to answer though in the third quarter. Following two completions by Newton, Williams was able to break off another long run, this time for 54 yards and a touchdown. Gano added the PAT to bring the score to 24-20.
After the teams traded punts, Carolina was able to force a turnover for the first time today. S Charles Godfrey intercepted a pass from Brees intended for Moore. Three plays later Tolbert was able to carry the football one yard for a Panthers touchdown. Gano made the extra point to give Carolina a three point advantage, 27-24, at the end of the third quarter.
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