Photo: Chuck Cook/USA Today Sports

 
Sunday afternoon at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome marked the first time in four seasons that the New Orleans Saints were playing in a postseason game. When the dust had settled, Drew Brees made sure that this latest trip to the playoffs would last more than one week.

The veteran signal caller threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns as New Orleans held off the Carolina Panthers for a 31-26 win in the NFC Wild Card Game in a game that found a flair for the dramatic.

With less than two minutes remaining, Saints head coach Sean Payton made the curious decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 at Carolina’s 47-yard line. A conversion would have put the Panthers away but a stop would give Cam Newton one final chance to complete the comeback.

Brees’ lone blemish came on that conversion, where he threw the ball up for grabs and Carolina safety Mike Adams came away with the interception. The play turned into some good fortune for the Saints as it gave the Saints defense an extra 20 yards of cushion to work with.

Up until that point, Brees had put together a strong performance that got going late in the first quarter when he found Ted Ginn down the field for an 80-yard touchdown pass. The wheels kept turning for Brees, who found Josh Hill for a 9-yard TD pass and put together one of the best sequences of the season in the process: completing all seven passes on the drive for 79 yards.

Simply put, Drew Brees had found a rhythm and his team needed every bit of it as they struggled to run the football against a stingy Panther run defense. But, he delivered and found eight different receivers in the process.

His favorite target of the day was former Ohio State Buckeye standout Michael Thomas, who finished with 131 yards receiving on eight catches. Nearly every time Brees needed to make a play, Thomas was the go-to.

It got interesting for the Saints late, but simply put, they aren’t in position to win that game without Brees, who turns 39 this week.

The win for New Orleans sets up a showdown with the Minnesota Vikings that are led by their own former Texas high school football star in Case Keenum. The quarterback from Abilene Wylie and later Houston has stepped into the spotlight in Minneapolis after injuries suffered by Sam Bradford early in the year.

Even with the twists and turns later, Brees helped get the Saints over the hump as they live to fight another week.
 

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