NEW ORLEANS — 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 end the Panthers' winning streak at eight games. In the process, Brees became the fifth quarterback to eclipse 50,000 yards passing.
"Love this offense. Love what Sean Payton's put together," Brees said.
The Panthers' defense had not given up more than two touchdowns in a game this season but the Saints scored three in the second quarter, 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, which had the top-ranked scoring defense in the NFL, giving up 13.1 points per game.
Brees' first two touchdown passes went to Marques Colston, who made nine catches for 125 yards. Jimmy Graham had two touchdown receptions, 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 give up a touchdown until 5 minutes 15 seconds remained. Junior Galette had three of New Orleans' sacks and Cameron Jordan had two.
"I'm surprised and disappointed. We're a better team than we played today," 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."
New Orleans has a one-game lead over the Panthers with three games to go. The teams play at Carolina in two weeks.
Brees completed 30 of 42 passes in becoming the first quarterback to pass for at least 4,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons and pass for 30 touchdowns six seasons in a row.