It took a thrilling 10-play, 95-yard drive in the final minutes of the game for the Saints to beat the Panthers this time, no less dramatic than the Saints' victories over the Panthers last season, which both required last-second scores by New Orleans.
The Saints' two first-round picks this season came through big late in the game for the team. After missing a would-be touchdown catch-and-run earlier in the game, Stallworth came through with a big 38-yard catch-and-run to set up his unbelievable touchdown catch from 10-yards out later. With 31 seconds left, the Panthers themselves had a chance to drive, but Charles Grant made the biggest play of his young career when he recovered Rodney Peete's fumble and returned it 34 yards for a game-sealing touchdown.
Big plays were the key to the game, and both teams had their share. Saints special teamer Steve Gleason blocked a punt in the fourth quarter that set up Deuce McAllister's second touchdown run. McAllister's first touchdown was set up by a nifty punt return by Michael Lewis to the Carolina 29. Deuce put the Saints up 13-0 with a bull-rushing tackle-breaking 20-yard touchdown run. Joe Horn came through with six catches for 101, but none bigger than a 19-yard gain on third down on the Saints' final scoring drive.
Brooks completed 20 of 37 attempts for 259 yards and one touchdown, and contributed 26 rushing yards on four carries including a 12-yard designed bootleg in the fourth quarter. McAllister was held to 71 rushing yards on 21 attempts, and 34 yards on four catches.
Carolina QB Rodney Peete played well and, except for a game-ending on the final play, played nearly flawlessly. Peete's interception came on a deflection, and Peete led his team on several long scoring drives, including a seven-play, 79 yard drive that ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Wesley Walls. Earlier, Peete completed a three-year touchdown to Jermaine Wiggins and had long pass completions to Muhsin Muhammad, Steve Smith, and Kris Mangum. Ex-Saint RB Lamar Smith contributed 80 yards rushing on 17 carries, 59 of which came on one carry. Smith's touchdown run from one inch out gave the Panthers a 17-16 lead in the third quarter.
Saints linebackers did a good job on the day snuffing out screen plays and dump-off passes, led by middle linebacker Charlie Clemons with 10 total tackles. Willie Whitehead returned to action after recovering from a cracked fibula and contributed one sack, while the Saints' only other sack by Darren Howard forced the game-ending fumble. Cornerbacks Keyou Craver and Dale Carter also returned, and the Panthers tested Carter frequently. Carter played well, albeit a bit rusty, and anticipated and nearly intercepted a pass that he could have returned for a touchdown.
Michael Lewis did a good job on kick and punt returns, although Carolina punter Todd Sauerbrun averaged 49.9 yards on seven punts, including a 67-yard boot, pinning Lewis down deep frequently.