Saints earn best start in franchise history with 30-20 win over Panthers

Michael Tortorich
New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas hurdles Buffalo's Jairus Byrd on a 34-yard touchdown earlier this season.

NEW ORLEANS - The New Orleans Saints improved to 8-0, a franchise first, with a 30-20 win over the Carolina Panthers Sunday in the Louisiana Superdome.

The 1991 Saints had the previous best start to a season, as they jumped out to a 7-0 record before picking up their first loss.

Carolina (3-5) jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter as running back DeAngelo Williams scored on a 66-yard breakaway run and a 7-yard carry.

Both teams picked up field goals as Saints kicker John Carney connected on a 23-yard try and John Kasay hit a 32-yarder.

The Saints followed with a drive that resulted in a 25-yard Carney field goal.

The Saints further closed the gap in the third quarter. Saints quarterback Drew Brees hooked up with wide receiver Devery Henderson on a 63-yard pass play, and running back Pierre Thomas followed with a 10-yard touchdown run.

A 25-yard Kasay field goal gave the Panthers a 20-13 lead.

The Saints tied the score when Brees connected with wide receiver Robert Meachem on a 54-yard touchdown pass.

New Orleans took a 23-20 lead with 4:36 remaining on a 40-yard Carney field goal.

After downing a punt at the Carolina 2, Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove scooped up a fumble and returned it 1-yard for a touchdown with two minutes remaining.

Carolina threatened with a drive in the final minutes, but the Saints held on fourth down.

Saints coach Sean Payton said the momentum seemed to shift in the fourth quarter.

"We hung around offensively and got some things going," Payton said. "It's good to get the win."

Brees went 24-of-35 passing for 330 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He passed Terry Bradshaw and Ron Jaworski on the NFL's career passing yards list to move into 42nd place.

Thomas led the Saints in rushing with 50 yards on 13 carries. Thomas also caught five passes for 31 yards.

Meachem led in receiving with 98 yards on 5 catches.

Reggie Bush caught seven passes for 45 yards.

Williams led all rushers with 149 yards on 21 tries.

Steve Smith led the Panthers with four catches for 64 yards.

Breaux Bridge native and former Saints quarterback Jake Delhomme went 17-of-30 passing for 201 yards. He had no touchdowns or interceptions.

The Saints did not intercept a pass for the first time this season, but they did force three turnovers on fumbles.

New Orleans will travel to St. Louis (1-7) for a noon kickoff Sunday.

"I think we're just focused on the job at hand and next week," Payton said. "I'm excited for our players."