By Steve Reed, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton threw for 253 yards and ran for a career-high 71 yards as the Panthers defeated New Orleans 35-27 on Sunday to hand the Saints their first 0-2 start since 2007.
One week after tying a franchise low with 10 yards rushing in a 16-10 loss to Tampa Bay, the Panthers rediscovered their running game against a porous Saints defense. The Panthers ran for 219 yards and Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert all scored on short touchdown runs. Steve Smith overcame a sore knee to finish with 104 yards receiving - the 39th 100-yard receiving game of his career - and Jonathan Stewart hauled in a 17-yard touchdown reception for the Panthers (1-1).
The Saints' defense is truly a mess, having surrendered 924 yards and 75 points in two games.
Drew Brees had won his previous five starts against Carolina. He threw for 325 yards, but was intercepted twice, including once by Charles Godfrey, who returned it 9 yards for a touchdown.
The Panthers only sacked Brees once but pressured him into getting rid of the ball early several times and into a pair of intentional grounding penalties.
Carolina's defense gained revenge on the Saints for their loss in Week 17 last season when Brees threw for 389 yards and five scores while pursuing NFL single-season records. The Panthers lost that game 45-17 and several players, including Godfrey, said earlier this week that was ``a slap in the face.''
The last time the Saints started 0-2 was five years ago, when they finished 7-9 and failed to make the playoffs.
Brees got off to a good start Sunday by completing all six passes for 55 yards on the Saints' opening drive, including a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham.
After converting just two of 11 third-down conversions last week, the Saints seemed to rectify that problem on the game's opening drive. Brees completed third-down passes of 18 and 15 yards to Darren Sproles before connecting on a 1-yard touchdown pass to Graham to complete an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.
It was the second straight week the Panthers gave up a touchdown on the opening drive.
But the defense would redeem itself on the next possession when Godfrey stepped in front of a rollout pass by Brees and returned it 9 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 7.
After two field goals by Garrett Hartley, the Panthers found their stride in the second quarter with Newton engineering a pair of eight-play touchdown drives.
Running the zone read option to perfection, Newton kept the Saints off balance running eight times for 66 yards in the opening half and coordinator Rob Chudzinski used a variety of well-designed plays to confuse the Saints.
Newton's previous high single-game high was 65 yards rushing set last season at home against Tampa Bay, but he broke that mark before the end of the first half with his eighth carry of the game.
Pierre Thomas had 110 yards rushing for the Saints and Sproles had 13 receptions for 128 yards receiving.
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