Saints top Panthers to take NFC South lead

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees scores a touchdown in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium.  

Bob Donnan/Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Drew Brees and the Saints proved they know how to win big games on the road.

Brees overcame a shaky start and threw for one touchdown and ran for another and New Orleans defeated the Carolina Panthers 28-10 Thursday night to take over first place in the NFC South.

The Saints (4-4) piled up 375 yards to snap a seven-game losing streak on the road that dated back to last November.

Brees finished 24 of 34 for 297 yards and Mark Ingram turned in another solid performance with 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

Brees threw an interception and fumbled in the first quarter before settling down late in the second and leading touchdown drives on four out of five possessions.

The Saints’ defense sacked Cam Newton four times and forced two turnovers.

Newton, who spent much of the night under heavy duress playing behind an offensive line without three of its regular starters, was limited to 151 yards passing.

New Orleans pushed inside the Carolina 15-yard line on the game-opening drive before Brees’ pass for Kenny Stills was deflected to Panthers defensive lineman Dwan Edwards for the interception.

Then, after the Saints forced a punt, Brees quickly pushed the Saints to midfield only to have Carolina’s Charles Johnson push fullback Erik Lorig into him and knock the ball loose as he looked downfield for a fumble.

However, Newton and the Panthers couldn’t take advantage and were forced to punt after both turnovers.

"It’s hard when you don’t take advantage of those opportunities," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.

The Saints didn’t have the same problem on the next possession.

With the Panthers pinned back in their own end, Junior Galette sacked Newton from behind and stripped the ball, allowing linebacker Curtis Lofton recovered at the Carolina 3. Mark Ingram took advantage two plays later with a 3-yard run to give the Saints a 7-0 lead.

Then, after forcing a three-and-out, Drew Brees directed an 85-yard drive that ended when he slipped a 1-yard pass just past Melvin White to Graham on the right side with 3 seconds left in the half and the Saints were off and running while the Panthers (3-5-1) headed to the locker room serenaded by a chorus of boos.

One of the few highlights for the Panthers came from Newton.

He turned in one of the most athletic plays of the season when he scrambled out of the pocket, raced around the left end and took off from the 5-yard line and soaring toward the goal line with the ball outstretched in his right hand for a touchdown, cutting the Saints lead to 14-7.

But Brees stopped any Carolina momentum when he led a 14-play, 80-yard drive that took more than six minutes off the clock.

Brees jumped forward and stretched the ball over the goal line on a fourth-down sneak to give the New Orleans Saints a 21-7 lead.

Ingram, who carried 30 times, added his second scoring run to seal the game in the fourth quarter.

While Newton struggled, his receivers didn’t give him much help.

Jerricho Cotchery couldn’t haul in a catchable deep ball inside the 10 in the first quarter and Newton’s on-target throw hit Brenton Bersin in the hands and popped straight to Corey White for an interception on the next drive. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin also dropped a pass in the end zone for the second straight week.

The Panthers had won just one of their past six games coming in along with a tie at Cincinnati in Week 6, including falling at home last week to Seattle on a late touchdown.

The Saints, meanwhile, were 0-4 on the road this season.

Still, New Orleans was coming off a dominating second-half performance — at home, fittingly — in which it scored 28 points after the break to speed past the Packers 44-23.

There were no shortages of promising signs for the Saints in that one, from Jimmy Graham hauling in a touchdown catch and looking healthier after a shoulder injury to Ingram running for a career-best 172 yards to complement Brees through the air.

Graham had seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers.