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    Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints face the prospect of seeing their season end where it began.
    That is Stephen Hauschka Jersey , unless they’ve improved enough to turn the tables on the Minnesota Vikings, who beat New Orleans convincingly in Week 1.
    ”That feels like ages and ages ago,” Brees said of the 29-19 loss in Minnesota, describing the difference between the Saints then and now as ”night and day.”
    The Saints (12-5) rebounded from double-digit losses to the Vikings and New England Patriots in their first two games to win the NFC South. Now they’re on to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs after holding off Carolina (11-6), 31-26 on Sunday.
    New Orleans’ next game comes one day before Brees turns 39 years old, and will come one week after the veteran quarterback reminded everyone he’s still capable of big passing days if opposing defenses sell out to stop the Pro Bowl running back tandem of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
    Brees completed 23 passes to eight different receivers for 375 yards and two touchdowns. Only two of his completions went to Ingram or Kamara, who accounted for only 68 yards from scrimmage combined.
    ”We trust our system. We trust each other and what we proved is we can beat you in a lot of different ways,” Brees said. ”There’s no better feeling than knowing you just won, not only won but won a playoff game as a team and now you’re on to the next one.”
    His touchdown passes of 80 yards to Ted Ginn and 9-yards to tight end Josh Hill helped New Orleans open up a 21-6 lead late in the first half. Michael Thomas caught eight passes for 131 yards, including a 46-yarder that set up Kamara’s short TD run in the fourth quarter.
    For the Panthers, it was an excruciating end to the season. Beaten soundly by the Saints twice before this season, they pushed New Orleans to the brink in the third matchup.
    Aided by the return of star tight end Greg Olsen, the Panthers drove inside the Saints 22-yard line five times, only to come away with nothing twice and field goals three other times.
    ”That was the difference in the game,” said Olsen, who had eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. ”We moved the ball pretty much at will the whole game. We just struggled in the first half in the red zone and it turned out to be points that we kept chasing.”
    Still, the Panthers had a first down on the Saints 21 with 41 seconds left. It wasn’t until Newton’s intentional grounding in the face of end Cameron Jordan’s pass rush Rod Brind'Amour Jersey , followed by Vonn Bell’s sack on a safety blitz on fourth down, that the Saints sealed the victory.
    Some other things to know from the Saints’ win:
    GETTING PRESSURE: The Saints sacked Newton four times. Jordan, Bell, linebacker Jonathan Freeny and defensive tackle David Onyemata each had one. Jordan, a newly named All-Pro, also tipped two passes and might have made his biggest play when he ran through two blockers to force Newton’s intentional grounding. Their pass rush could be a factor against Minnesota QB Case Keenum, who’s been sacked 17 times in Minnesota’s last six games.
    Certainly, Jordan expects a different game that Week 1, when the Saints had one sack – by Jordan – against then-starter Sam Bradford.
    ”We had a young defense that was still learning,” Jordan said. ”We’ve clearly turned the corner. We’ve clearly turned to the next chapter. Now we’re into the playoffs and we’ve got bigger and better goals.”
    SECONDARY CONCERNS: While the Saints’ defense has been far better this season than last, the secondary has looked more vulnerable lately. Against Carolina, they allowed Newton to pass for 349 yards, his second most all season. New Orleans struggled to cover Olsen and versatile running back Christian McCaffrey, who six catches for 101 yards, including a 56-yard score.
    END ZONE PROTECTION: While the Saints defense gave up 413 net yards, their ability to keep Carolina out of the end zone was crucial.
    ”It’s better to hold them to three than six,” Bell said. ”We held them in the red zone and we won the game.”
    ROAD WOES: While the Saints won their sixth straight home playoff game and improved to 5-0 in the Superdome in postseason games under coach Sean Payton Authentic DaeSean Hamilton Jersey , they’ve won only one road playoff game in their history. That was during the 2013 season, when they won a wild-card round game at Philadelphia before losing the next week at Seattle.
    The Saints’ all time road playoff record is 1-6.

    Sean Newcomb is maturing quickly in his second full season in the majors.
    ”I think I’m doing a better job of just managing everything in general,” Newcomb said. ”Looking back at old starts and taking all the positives from it rather than beating myself up about it or trying to overdo something the next start.”
    The 25-year-old Newcomb pitched six scoreless innings, Charlie Culberson homered, and the Atlanta Braves beat the San Diego Padres 1-0 on Saturday.
    The NL East-leading Braves improved to 25-7 when their starter pitches at least six innings, and Newcomb has been a big reason for the success.
    A winner in eight of his last nine decisions, Newcomb (8-2) allowed two hits, walked one and struck out seven. He retired the last 13 batters he faced and is 6-0 with a 1.35 ERA when starting after the Braves lost their previous game.
    Dan Winkler faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Arodys Vizcaino earned his 14th save in 16 chances by working through a shaky ninth.
    Hunter Renfroe doubled with one out, and pinch-hitter Cory Spangenburg got plunked in the right side before Vizcaino struck out Franmil Reyes and retired Freddy Galvis on a grounder.
    Jordan Lyles (2-4) allowed two base runners – a single by Dansby Swanson in the first and another by Culberson in the second – before Culberson’s third homer made it 1-0 in the fifth.
    Lyles turned in a solid performance after entering the game 0-1 with a 6.35 ERA in three career starts and one relief appearance against Atlanta. He gave up five hits and struck out six in his best outing since pitching 7 1/3 scoreless innings against Colorado on May 15.
    ”We got ahead of guys (in the count) unlike we did back home against these guys, but overall not too many hard-hit balls,” Lyles said. ”Just the one mistake to Charlie.”
    Braves starters began the day ranked fourth in the majors with a 3.35 ERA and they improved to 5-1 with a 1.09 ERA in their last 10 home games. Newcomb has been particularly tough on San Diego, pitching six scoreless innings in each of his three career starts.
    ”He went out in the sixth and had a 3-0 count on that first hitter and just kind of locked in,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. ”It was really good. How he doesn’t panic, how he’s always staying pitch to pitch and just going to work. You expect that out of him now.”
    Jose Pirela doubled to begin the game and advanced to third before Newcomb struck out Christian Villaneuva and Franmil Reyes. That was the only trouble he faced.
    ”There were some power guys that I was trying to attack,” Newcomb said. ”I didn’t want them to hit something soft and do something with it. I knew I’d get some in the top of the zone. I was doing that. It was good.”
    The Padres had won three of four and 12 of 17, but dropped to 34-39 Authentic Sylvester Williams Jersey , last in the NL West.
    They didn’t match up well again with Newcomb, who has six starts when not allowing a run, most in the majors this year.
    ”There’s a profile of a guy that’s tough for our group collectively – a guy that’s throwing fastballs by us in the top of the zone,” San Diego manager Andy Green said. ”I think people can see that. We have to shorten up and connect and weren’t able to do that today.
    STILL STREAKING
    Braves 1B Freddie Freeman went 1 for 3 and has hit safely in 26 of 27 for a .377 average since May 19. He leads the NL in batting average, hits, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and total bases.
    SHORT PAUSE
    The game was delayed 25 minutes by rain in the middle of the sixth.
    BIG CROWD
    The Braves announced their fifth sellout this year and 41,916 tickets sold, the largest crowd in SunTrust Park’s two-year history.
    TRAINER’S ROOM
    Padres: RF Wil Myers, sidelined 44 games with a strained left oblique, has gone 2 for 8 with one RBI in two rehab games with Triple-A El Paso. Myers, who hit a combined 58 homers the last two years, might return next week.
    Braves: LF Ronald Acuna Jr. ran the bases vigorously before the game and told manager Brian Snitker immediately afterward that he was ”ready to go.” Acuna has been sidelined since May 28 with a sprained left knee sprain and bruises to his knee and lower back. Snitker said he will report to extended spring training in Orlando by Monday before beginning a rehab assignment. … RHP Mike Foltynewicz was placed on the 10-day disabled list with triceps tightness. After Foltynewicz threw a bullpen session Saturday, the team decided to give him extra rest in hopes of bringing him back next weekend. The team hopes he returns next weekend.
    UP NEXT
    Padres: Green has yet to announce a starter for Sunday’s series finale, but will use relief pitchers throughout.
    Braves: RHP Julio Teheran has been reinstated from the disabled list and will make his 14th start this season and 10th of his career against San Diego. Teheran missed over a week with a sore thumb. He is 0-3 with a 6.14 ERA in his last four starts.



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