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(Sunday, January 3rd)
Final Score: Carolina 23, New Orleans 10
Charlotte, NC (Sports Network) - Jonathan Stewart finished with 125 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries as Carolina downed New Orleans, 23-10, in the season finale for both teams from Bank of America Stadium.
Matt Moore was 14-of-23 for 162 yards and threw for a score for the Panthers (8-8), who won three in a row to end the season despite a slew of injuries to top players.
Dwayne Jarrett added a TD reception and 68 yards on five receptions while Muhsin Muhammad posted seven catches for 85 yards.
"We just got better as a football team," said Panthers head coach John Fox of his club's late-season resurgence. "We ran the ball well, which is what we've done all season long. We didn't get the passing game down until later. Still, it was a nice tribute for the guys to come out at home and play like they did."
Mark Brunell threw for just 102 yards and an interception on 15-of-29 passing for the Saints (13-3), who are the top seed in the NFC but finished the year with three consecutive losses.
Lynell Hamilton rushed for 48 yards and a touchdown, also racking up three receptions for 38 yards in defeat for New Orleans, which sat quarterback Drew Brees, running back Pierre Thomas, safety Darren Sharper and tight end David Thomas.
"We're comfortable in that it's the right thing to do," said Saints head coach Sean Payton on resting his key players in advance of the playoffs. "We worked hard to get ourselves in this position. Now it's our job to get mentally ready for what's ahead."
Carolina seized momentum early, as Stewart rumbled 67 yards to the end zone on the second play from scrimmage for a 7-0 Panthers edge.
New Orleans appeared to have tied the game later in the first quarter when Anthony Hargrove chased down Moore, caused him to slip and fall, then scooped up the ball in the end zone. However, replay reversed the original touchdown call on the field.
Garrett Hartley's 35-yard make early in the second put the Saints on the board, before Moore hit Jarrett for a 30-yard TD with 13 seconds left in the half.
Courtney Roby's fumble on the ensuing kickoff was recovered by the Panthers and led to John Kasay's 41-yarder as time expired for a 17-3 Panthers edge.
The Panthers' second drive of the second half proved fruitful as Kasay hit a 39-yard field goal for a 20-3 game. Kasay then drilled a 37-yarder for a 20- point spread with just over five minutes to play in the third.
Hamilton's one-yard run with seven seconds left in the quarter cut the Saints' deficit to 23-10, but two straight New Orleans drives in the fourth resulted in punts.
Brunell led the Saints to the Carolina 20 before Julius Peppers' interception with 2:28 remaining locked up the contest.
The Panthers outgained the Saints by a 327-213 margin...Carolina has won seven of the last nine meetings with New Orleans dating back to December, 2005...Without having thrown a pass, Brees was able to set the NFL record for pass completion percentage in a season at 70.6 percent, a shade ahead of Ken Anderson, who set the record for Cincinnati during the strike-shortened 1982 campaign.
01/03 17:54:32 ET
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