NEW ORLEANS — Cam Newton and the Panthers displayed composure in the clutch.
That's what unbeaten teams do.
Newton passed for five touchdowns, capped by a 15-yard score to Jerricho Cotchery with 1:05 to go, and Carolina clinched the NFC South with a 41-38 victory over the Saints on Sunday.
"I expected us to win the football game," Newton said, adding he wasn't pleased by how tight the game got against the Saints, who have lost four straight. "We've got to find ways moving forward not to put ourselves in this position. This was a wakeup call for us. And moving forward, we know we can't just win games by us showing up."
Carolina is the ninth 12-0 team in the Super Bowl era. The Panthers have won 16 straight regular-season games, a streak that began last season in the Superdome.
Newton, 28-of-41 for 331 yards, twice had to lead the Panthers back from fourth-quarter deficits.
"That is one of the things that we get out of this that we will certainly build on, that (Newton) was able to win a shootout and take a drive in the fourth quarter to give us a chance," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said after capturing his third successive division title.
Newton was sacked once but hit numerous other times, including on his 10 rushes for 49 yards. He was ordered to have concussion testing during the third quarter, right after his 13-yard TD pass to Ted Ginn capped a drive on which he took a heavy hit from linebacker Michael Mauti.
"I was fine. I was even teasing him," Newton said of his interview with a neurologist, adding that officials on the field also checked on him.
Drew Brees passed for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Saints linebacker Stephone Anthony returned a fumble 31 yards for a score and became the first NFL player to return a blocked extra-point kick for two points. The league made a rule change to allow such plays for the first time this season.
"There were a lot of good things, but still too many of the little things that get you beat," Brees said.