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NFL: Defense comes through, but Saints’ win is no breeze

NFL: Defense comes through, but Saints’ win is no breeze
Saints' P.J. Williams (26) celebrates as Carolina Panthers' D.J. Moore (12) walks off the field on Dec. 17. (Jason E. Miczek / Associated Press)

New Orleans put the clamps on Cam Newton, and the Saints beat the Carolina Panthers 12-9 Monday night to take a big step toward locking up home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

The Saints defense, which has been among the best in the league the last six weeks, held the former MVP to 131 yards passing, sacked him four times and forced two turnovers on a night when Drew Brees and the offense couldn’t get much going.

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Alvin Kamara had 103 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, and Brees had 203 yards passing for the Saints (12-2), who took a one-game lead in the NFC over the Rams.

The Saints close the season at home against Pittsburgh and Carolina; the Rams visit Arizona and host San Francisco.

Carolina’s only scores came off a trick play on fourth down — a 50-yard touchdown pass from running back Christian McCaffrey to tight end Chris Manhertz — and an interception return by Donte Jackson on a two-point conversion attempt.

The Saints limited Carolina (6-8) to 247 yards and 13 first downs as Newton struggled throwing the ball more than 10 yards down the field with a sore right shoulder.

The Panthers have lost six straight and are all but eliminated from playoff contention.

The Panthers struck first after offensive coordinator Norv Turner dug into his bag of tricks.

On a fourth-and-two from midfield, McCaffrey got a handoff, took a step toward the line, then stepped back and lofted a perfect pass over the middle to Manhertz, who was 15 yards behind the defense. Manhertz trotted into the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

It was McCaffrey’s first career pass attempt, although he threw two TD passes while at Stanford. He became the first non-QB to throw a TD pass in Panthers history.

The Saints responded with two field goals by Wil Lutz and appeared on the verge of taking the lead before halftime, but James Bradberry intercepted Brees’ tipped pass and returned it to Saints territory.

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