CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Drew Brees shredded the league's top-ranked defense, throwing for 220 yards and three touchdowns as the New Orleans Saints defeated the previously unbeaten Carolina Panthers 34-13 on Sunday.
Brees led six scoring drives and threw TD passes to Michael Thomas, Brandon Coleman and ex-Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. as the Saints avoided an 0-3 start. Rookie Alvin Kamara put the game away with a 25-yard TD run with 4:42 left.
Carolina had only allowed six points in its previous two games.
The Saints' defense, which came in ranked 32nd in the league, intercepted Cam Newton three times and sacked him four times before he was replaced late in the fourth quarter. Many of Newton's throws were either too hard or high as the seventh-year quarterback continued to struggle with his rhythm following offseason shoulder surgery.
The Panthers, who were already without injured Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, lost wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first quarter to a knee injury; his leg got bent back awkwardly after being dragged down from behind. Carolina's only real offense came from rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, who had 101 yards receiving on nine catches.
The Saints led 17-6 when Ginn beat cornerback James Bradberry down the middle of the field for a 40-yard touchdown reception to break it open. It was the same type of big play Ginn provided for the Panthers in previous seasons.
Brees was sharp all day, completing 22 of 29 passes.
Brees has thrown for 1,252 yards and 12 touchdowns with three interceptions in his last four games against the Panthers. Newton entered the game with 19 career touchdown passes and seven interceptions against the Saints. This marked the first time he's ever thrown more than one interception in a game vs. New Orleans.
GANO STAYS PERFECT: Panthers kicker Graham Gano entered training camp in a battle for his job, but the veteran added two more field goals on Sunday and is 8 for 8 on the season.
NO DOUBTING THOMAS: Carolina had no answer early on for Thomas, who caught five passes for 50 yards and a touchdown on the Saints' opening drive. Thomas finished with 87 yards receiving on seven catches.
DICKSON A NONFACTOR: Ed Dickson replaced Olsen at tight end for the Panthers, but was a nonfactor in the passing game. Instead, most of Newton's underneath passes went to McCaffrey. Olsen's streak of playing in 160 straight games came to an end due to a broken foot.
NATIONAL ANTHEM:At least a dozen Saints players sat on the bench for the national anthem. None of the Panthers players on the sideline sat or kneeled in protest.
Saints: DT David Perry, added to the 53-man roster this week, left with a left leg injury in the first half.
Panthers: In addition to Benjamin, LB Thomas Davis left briefly with a rib injury, but did return.
Saints: They head across the ocean to face the Miami Dolphins in London next Sunday.
Panthers: They travel to New England next Sunday.
© 2017 Associated Press