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Brees shreds Panthers in New Orleans

Drew Brees throws four touchdown passes, giving the Saints a two-game cushion in the NFC South standings

NEW ORLEANS  (AP) --          Drew Brees      saw his face on giant Superdome  video boards, then nodded and smiled as a jubilant crowd applauded the star  quarterback's      latest milestone and the meaningful way in which he hit it.          

Brees passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns and New Orleans beat Carolina  31-13 on Sunday night to regain sole possession      of first place in the NFC  South and snap the Panthers' winning streak at eight games. In the process,  Brees became the fifth      quarterback to eclipse 50,000 career yards passing.    

" Love this offense. Love what Sean Payton's put together,"  Brees said.

The Panthers' defense had not allowed more than two touchdowns in a game this  season until the Saints (10-3) scored three      in the second quarter alone,  when Brees completed 14 of 16 passes for 159 yards.   

The Saints also became the only team this season to score more than 24 points  against Carolina (9-4), which entered the game      No. 1 in scoring defense,  allowing 13.1 points per game.   

      Brees' first two scoring strikes went to        Marques Colston      ,  who made nine catches for 125 yards.        Jimmy  Graham      added two TD catches, his second making it 31-6 in the  fourth quarter.         

" We just had great balance,"  Brees said. " Marques came up with some huge  catches, as did Jimmy. The line did a great job      ... and the defense did a  great job of getting us the ball."    

      New Orleans sacked        Cam  Newton      five times and did not allow a touchdown until 5:15  remained.        Junior  Galette      had three of New Orleans' sacks and        Cameron Jordan      two.         

The Panthers had the ball for 11:30 of the first quarter, showing an early  ability to move the ball in the face of an energized      and loud Superdome  crowd, but only got two field goals out of it after New Orleans came up with  clutch third-down stops, including      one on third-and-goal from the 6.    

" I'm surprised and disappointed. We're a better team than we played today,"   Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. " They have      the crowd behind them and  they're on turf, not natural grass, which is a little bit different. It helps  them as far as their      speed and their timing. The things that they do here,  they do very well. We'll see how things go when they come to Carolina."          

Last Monday night, New Orleans went to Seattle looking to lead the race for  the top playoff seeding in the NFC, only to fall      34-7 and drop into a tie  with Carolina atop their division.   

But the Saints looked like legitimate contenders again in their return home,  where they are 7-0. They became the first team      not to lose a turnover to  the Panthers all season. Brees completed 30 of 42 passes in becoming the first  quarterback to pass      for at least 4,000 yards in eight straight season and  pass for 30 TDs in six straight seasons.   

New Orleans now owns a one-game lead over the Panthers with three games to  go, but travels to Carolina in two weeks.

" Here we are, attempting to make another run at it,"  Brees said. "  Obviously, some records and some other things, milestones      along the way  that you get to share, but I'm just glad to be on the journey with this group of  guys.   

      Brees' best drive began with 2:01 left in the first half and New  Orleans at its own 24. He immediately found        Lance  Moore      for 21 yards, Colston for 19 yards and        Darren Sproles      for  20, setting up Graham's 5-yard TD catch to make it 21-6.         

      Newton was 22 of 34 passing for 160 yards,        DeAngelo Williams      returned from a quad contusion that sidelined him last week, gaining 52 yards on  13 carries.         

" It was a great measuring stick for who we are and where we have to go,"   Newton said. " The best thing about this is we      have an opportunity to face  this team again in two weeks. Those guys just were better than us today. Are  they better than      us? No."    

      The Panthers struggled to move the ball on most drives after the first  quarter, when        Graham  Gano      hit field goals of 45 and 24 yards.         

Brees' other TDs went for 8 yards to Graham and for 6 and 15 yards to  Colston, who was hardly surprised by the QB's quick      return to form.   

" You've just got to see him throughout the week,"  Colston said. " The man  works like I've never seen. He deserves every      bit of success that he gets."     

      Notes: The other four QBs with 50,000 yards are: Brett Favre with  71,838,        Peyton  Manning      with 64,009, Dan Marino with 61,361 and John Elway with  51,475. ... Panthers RB        Jonathan  Stewart      left the game with a knee injury, the severity of which  was not immediately disclosed.

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