NEW ORLEANS - The New Orleans Saints were in a record-breaking mood as they obliterated team, individual and season records, as well the division rival Carolina Panthers, 45-17, in front of 73,065 fans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In addition to the records broken by Drew Brees, Darren Sproles broke Derrick Masonâ€™s record for all-purpose yards in a season while Jimmy Graham broke the single-season tight end receiving yards record, though he was eclipsed later in the day by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Sproles broke his record on the strength of his diverse skill set, returning punts and kickoffs in addition to his role as a dual-threat halfback. Sproles finished the season with 2,696 all-purpose yards, breaking the mark Derrick Mason set in 2000 as a receiver and returner.
â€œThereâ€™s no situation too big for Sprolesy,â€ Brees said.
The Saints broke several team records as well, compiling the most net offensive yards of all time, the most net passing yards, and the home scoring record, the first and last of which were set by the 2000 Rams â€œGreatest Show on Turfâ€ offense led by Kurt Warner.
Brees may have saved his best for last, completing 28 passes on 35 attempts for 389 yards and five touchdowns. He tightened his grasp on the all-time single season passing yardage record he set last week against the Falcons, finishing the season with 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns, both league and career highs for the All-Pro.
Brees finished with the single-season record for completions, had at least 20 completions for his 35th straight game, extended his streak of games with at least one touchdown pass to 43 and broke his own completion percentage mark set in 2009 by completing 71.2% of his passes on the season.
â€œWeâ€™ve raised the bar for ourselves,â€ Brees said. â€œIt was everything we hoped for today.â€
Wide receiver Marques Colston was the main cog in Breesâ€™ aerial assault, compiling 145 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches. Jimmy Graham, who briefly became the single-season all-time yardage leader among tight ends, caught eight passes for 97 yards and a touchdown.
â€œI guess records are meant to be broken, but mine got broken pretty quickly,â€ Graham joked.
Colston is glad to be part of one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history, but he has his sights set elsewhere when it comes to ultimate goals.
â€œIf you can look back with a ring on your finger, then youâ€™re talking about something,â€ Colston said.
The Saints also ran the ball super effectively, piling up 208 yards rushing with a 5.9 yards per carry average. Chris Ivory led all backs with 127 yards on 19 carries.
The Panthers did manage to gain 164 yards on the ground but were outgained in total yards 617-301. Jonathan Stewart rushed for 79 yards on nine carries and had one touchdown.
Likely Rookie of the Year Cam Newton was under pressure nearly the whole game. He completed 15 passes on 25 attempts for 158 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Though the crowd was a little less spirited and raucous than last Monday night, the Saints offense looked like it was shot out of a cannon, going 80 yards on four plays in just over a minute and a half for an opening drive touchdown, a 35-yard run by Chris Ivory.
The Panthers couldnâ€™t quite match the Saintsâ€™ explosiveness, but still managed to put together an 80 yard drive of their own in that took 11 plays and over six minutes. Steve Smith caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to tie the game at seven halfway through the first frame.
The Saints were a bit more methodical on the next drive, eating up 83 yards in nine plays, including a 15-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Colston. The score broke the franchise single-season record for points in a season and extended Breesâ€™ run of games with a touchdown pass to 43, only four games away from Johnny Unitasâ€™ 47-game streak.
Newton and the Panthers were moving again, but a leaping redzone interception by Patrick Robinson on an attempted jump pass by Newton stopped the drive cold. The Saints got moving, but Brees was intercepted by R.J. Stanford, who brought it back 53 yards to give the Panthers good field position. The Panthers couldnâ€™t go very far though, and Olindo Mare was forced to try a 41-yard field goal, which he made.
Brees moved the Saints into field goal position, where John Kasay drilled a 43-yarder to return the Saints lead to seven with a little less than three minutes to go in the half.
The Panthers tied the game in a hurry, going 80 yards in five plays and only one minute and twenty four seconds. Jonathan Stewart took it in from 29 yards out to tie the game with 1:18 left in the half.
But 78 seconds is as good as an eternity for Brees, as scores of opposing defenses have found out at the end of halves in 2011. Brees deftly moved the Saints to the Carolina 42, leaving 15 seconds on the clock. Instead of trying to set up for a field goal, Brees scanned the field then threw a bomb to Marques Colston in the endzone, who caught it for the score. Following the touchdown, there was still seven seconds on the clock.
The Saints defense forced its first punt of the afternoon to open the second half, and Brees got to work again. The offense went 61 yards on six plays, eclipsing 30 points yet again with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Graham. On the drive, the Saints broke the team record for net passing yards in a season and Brees extended his streak of 300 yard games to seven, an NFL record.
The defense kept up the pace, sacking Newton and forcing another punt. On the ensuing drive, Graham broke Kellen Winslowâ€™s 31-year-old record for single-season tight end receiving yards and the Saints scored yet again, as Brees threw a one-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jed Collins.
One more hurrah for Brees this regular season came after another stop, and the MVP candidate did not dissapoint. With some help from Sproles, Brees moved the Saints 68 yards in seven plays, including his fifth touchdown pass of the day, a nine yard toss to Sproles.
The win was the Saintsâ€™ eight straight and marked the first time head coach Sean Payton has won a season finale as Saintsâ€™ head coach. The team also went a perfect 8-0 at home during the season, the first time in franchise history the Saints have done so.
Payton is looking forward to the playoffs, where his team will play the Detroit Lions at the Superdome on Saturday night at 7 p.m. on NBC.
â€œThe teams that we are discussing, whether itâ€™s Atlanta or Detroit, have had really good seasons,â€ Payton said. â€œWe try to take that focus as much on us and our preparation as anything else.â€
Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints â— Sunday, January 1, 2012
Saints Postgame Team Notes
(**see separate page for individual notes**)
- The Saints end the 2011 season with a 13-3 record, tying a franchise record for wins in a season, and their fifth division title in franchise history (NFC West, 1991 and 2000; NFC South, 2006 and 2009).
- Sundayâ€™s attendance of 73,065 allowed the Saints to set a single-season attendance record inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. A record 584,336 fans attended Saints regular season home games this season, the most in the 37-year history of the Dome.
- With San Franciscoâ€™s victory over St. Louis, the Saints will be the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Saints will play either the Detroit Lions or the Atlanta Falcons at home next weekend.
- The Saints improved to 8-0 at home for the first time in franchise history.
- With a franchise-record 617 total yards Sunday, the Saints shattered the NFL record for yards gained in a season with 7,474. The previous NFL record of 7,075 set by the St. Louis Rams in 2000.
- The Saints also passed the 2000 Rams for the most net passing yards in a season. New Orleans finished with 5,347 net passing yards, which topped the Ramsâ€™ 5,232.
- In eight home games this season, the Saints scored 329 points (41.1 per game), the most in a season in NFL history. The previous high was 292 by the 2000 St. Louis Rams.
- With their second touchdown Sunday, this yearâ€™s Saints passed the 2009 team for the most points scored in a season in franchise history. New Orleans finished with 547 points this season, the third-highest total in NFL history (589, 2007 New England Patriots; 556, 1998 Minnesota Vikings).
- The Saints ended the season completing an NFL-record 71.3% of their passes (472 of 662). The previous mark was 70.65% by the Cincinnati Bengals in a strike-shortened 1982 season. The previous full-season mark was 70.25% by the 1994 San Francisco 49ers.
- The Saints completed 31 passes on Sunday to improve their season total to 472, breaking their own NFL record. New Orleans and Indianapolis co-held the mark of 450 completions, each from a year ago.
- With 34 first downs against the Panthers, the Saints finished with an NFL record 417 on the season. The previous record was 398 set by the 2004 Kansas City Chiefs.
- The Saints also set an NFL record for first downs passing with 280. The 1985 San Diego Chargers held the previous record of 259.
- By not committing a fumble Sunday, the Saints set an NFL record for fewest fumbles in a season with six. The previous low was seven by the 2002 Kansas City Chiefs.
- The Saints converted on six of nine third downs Sunday to improve their season rate to 118 of 208 (56.7%). The NFL does not list a record for third-down conversion percentage, but the Saintsâ€™ mark is the best in the league since at least 1991. The 2006 Indianapolis Colts had held the best mark in that span â€“ 56.1%.
- The Saints outscored their opponents 329-143 at home this season. The point differential of 186 points (23.3 points per game) is third-highest home point differential in NFL history, behind only the 1999 Rams (+24.6) and the 1998 Vikings (+23.6).
- In addition to the aforementioned NFL records, The Saints also set several other franchise records on Sunday â€“ touchdowns (66), points after touchdown (63), average yards per play (6.7), average yards per rush (4.9), pass attempts (662), fewest fumbles lost (5), fewest turnovers (19), punting average (46.9) and third-down conversions (118).
Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints â— Sunday, January 1, 2012
Saints Postgame Individual Notes
- QB Drew Brees completed 28 of 35 passes for 389 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. He finished with a passer rating of 140.7.
- Brees, who set the NFL single-season record for passing yards last Monday night against Atlanta, set two more single-season marks Sunday, for completions and completion percentage. Breesâ€™ final season totals: 468 completions (an NFL record), 657 attempts, 71.2% completion percentage (NFL record), 5,476 yards (NFL record) and 46 touchdowns.
- Brees broke his own record for completion percentage (70.6, 2009) and topped Peyton Manningâ€™s mark for completions (450, 2010).
- Sunday marked Breesâ€™ 13th 300-yard passing game of the season, extending his own NFL record, and his seventh consecutive 300-yard game, another NFL mark. Brees has 50 games of 300 yards or more in six seasons as a Saint.
- Breesâ€™ franchise-record 46 TD passes are the most in the NFL this season and the fourth most in NFL history (Tom Brady 50, 2007; Peyton Manning 49, 2004; Dan Marino 48, 1984).
- Brees will take a streak of 43 consecutive games with a touchdown pass, second-longest in NFL history, into the 2012 season. Johnny Unitas holds the NFL record of 47 consecutive games.
- Brees also extended his NFL-record streak of games with 20 or more completions to 35.
- Breesâ€™ big day elevated his season passer rating to 110.6, breaking his own franchise record of 109.4 set in 2009.
- TE Jimmy Graham had eight receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown. He set a franchise record for receptions in a season with 99 and tied another mark with his 11th touchdown reception. The previous mark for catches was 98 by Marques Colston in 2007. Colston, in 2007, and Joe Horn, in 2004, are the other receivers in Saints history with 11 TD catches.
- For a brief moment, Graham held the NFL record for receiving yards in a season by a tight end (1,310), before New Englandâ€™s Rob Gronkowski caught a 23-yard pass in the final two minutes to up his season total to 1,327.
- RB Darren Sproles had 168 combined net yards (40 rushing, 29 receiving, 45 punt returns, 54 kickoff returns) Sunday to improve his season total to 2,696, an NFL single-season record. The previous mark of 2,690 was set by the Tennessee Titansâ€™ Derrick Mason in 2000, and the second-highest total (and previous Saints franchise mark) of 2,647 was set by Michael Lewis in 2002.
- WR Marques Colston caught Breesâ€™ first pass on Sunday to go over the 1,000-yard mark in receiving yards for the fifth time in his six seasons as a Saint. Colston, who had 10 catches for 145 yards against the Panthers, ends 2011 with 80 receptions for 1,143 yards.
- Graham, Sproles and Colston all finished with 80 or more receptions.
- Colston and Graham are only the second set of teammates in franchise history to each have 1,000 or more yards receiving. In 2001, Joe Horn finished with 1,265 receiving yards and Willie Jackson 1,046.
- CB Patrick Robinsonâ€™s second-quarter interception was his team-leading fourth of the season, two of which came off Carolina QB Cam Newton. Robinson is the seventh different Saints defender to lead or co-lead the team in interceptions since 2007.
- Rookie LB Martez Wilsonâ€™s third-quarter sack of Newton was the first of his career.
- P Thomas Morstead broke his own franchise history for punting average at 47.9. He averaged 45.9 yards per punt a year ago.
- K John Kasayâ€™s 144 points scored and 63 points after touchdown extended his own franchise records.
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