NEW ORLEANS — A slew of touchdowns marked the early games on Sunday in the NFL. The high-flying Saints offense kept right up with that trend in the night game.
The NFL set a single-day record for touchdowns when New Orleans scored three times in the first half of Sunday night's 31-13 victory over the Panthers.
Drew Brees found tight end Jimmy Graham for a 5-yard score right before halftime for his third touchdown pass, making it 88 touchdowns on a wild day across the league. The previous record was 87 in Week 17 of the 2012 season on Dec. 30, according to STATS LLC.
Brees passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns as the Saints regained sole possession of first place in the NFC South and snapped the Panthers' winning streak at eight games.
The Panthers defense had not allowed more than two touchdowns in a game through the first 12 games. The Saints scored three touchdowns in the second quarter, when Brees completed 14 of 16 for 159 yards. The Saints joined Buffalo as the only teams to score 24 points against Carolina, which entered No. 1 in scoring defense (13.1).
"We knew the challenge,'' Brees said of facing the Panthers defense. "We wanted to hit our stride. It was a great team win.
"We had great balance. A lot of guys made big plays. I love this offense. I love this group of guys. We really have great chemistry.''
The Saints appeared to have reached 28 points on what would have been Marques Colston's third touchdown catch, but video review showed his knee touching down just before he reached the ball across the goal line. A run and two passing plays failed to get that last yard, setting up Garrett Hartley's short field goal.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was 12 of 22 passing for 89 yards, while DeAngelo Williams, returning from a quad contusion that sidelined him last week, rushed 12 times for 49 yards as the Panthers struggled to move the ball after the first quarter, when Graham Gano hit two field goals.
Gano, a former FSU standout, missed wide right from 49 yards in the third quarter.
New Orleans trailed 6-0, but seemed ignited by Darren Sproles' 38-yard run late in the first quarter. That set up Colston's 6-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter.
On their next possession, the Saints drove 86 yards in 11 plays, highlighted by tight end Ben Watson's 20-yard catch and capped by Colston's touchdown on a 15-yard pass over the middle.
"The coaches put a good game plan together,'' Colston said. "We'll take this win, process it, and start getting ready for next week.''
Colston had nine catches for 125 yards. Jimmy Graham added two touchdown catches, his second making it 31-6 in the fourth quarter
New Orleans sacked Cam Newton five times and did not allow a touchdown until 5:15 remained.
New Orleans defensive end Cameron Jordan surpassed the 10-sack plateau in the first half.