CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Sticking to its master plan is starting to pay off for the New Orleans Saints.
“We didn’t point fingers and we stuck together,” Saints linebacker Junior Galette said. “We told each other we’re going to stick together and here we are in first place.”
Running back Mark Ingram rushed for two touchdowns and reached the 100-yard mark for the second game in a row as the Saints won consecutive games for the first time this season by defeating the Carolina Panthers 28-10 on Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium.
Quarterback Drew Brees threw for a touchdown and ran for another for the Saints (4-4) in the first meeting of the season between the primary NFC South contenders.
“It doesn’t matter how you start (the season). It matters how you finish,” New Orleans cornerback Keenan Lewis said. “We have to play everyone again in the division.”
Three of the Saints’ touchdown drives covered 80 or more yards Thursday night.
“We have to bring our ‘A’ game on the road,” Ingram said. “We just stayed with it.”
Ingram’s 3-yard touchdown run with 5:30 left sealed the outcome. He gained 100 yards on 30 carries just four nights after a 172-yard rushing performance against the Green Bay Packers.
“I feel like the more carries you get, the more you get in a rhythm,” Ingram said.
The Panthers (3-5-1), the defending champions in the division, have lost three games in a row and they’re winless in their last four games.
“We stand up and answer the same questions week-in and week-out,” Carolina tight end Greg Olsen said. “We say we’re going to fix it, but we have yet to find the solutions.”
Brees completed 24 of 34 passes for 297 yards, ending a string of four 300-yard passing games but it didn’t matter.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was 10-for-28 for 151 yards. He was sacked four times.
“I didn’t do enough,” Newton said. “There’s a lot that hasn’t been done. We have to take ownership and hold ourselves accountable.”
The Panthers picked up their first touchdown in two games on Newton’s scramble on third-and-goal from the 10, completing a 10-play, 81-yard march with 10:14 to play in the third quarter.
New Orleans responded with a 14-play drive, scoring on Brees’ fourth-down sneak from 1-yard out for a 21-7 advantage.
Carolina reached the New Orleans 6 on the second play of the fourth quarter before losing yards and settling for kicker Graham Gano’s 31-yard field goal.
“We’ve got to find a way,” Panthers center Ryan Kalil said. “My concern is with myself and the offensive line. We’ve got to do better.”
The Saints broke out to a 14-0 halftime lead with two scores late in the second quarter.
Two plays after a Carolina turnover, the Saints broke a scoreless tie on Ingram’s 3-yard run with 2:38 remaining in the half.
It was the Saints’ fourth possession in Panthers territory, this set up by linebacker Junior Galette’s sack of Newton, resulting in linebacker Curtis Lofton’s recovered fumble at the 4-yard line.
New Orleans then went 85 yards in 10 plays to score again with three seconds left in the half. Brees’ 1-yard toss to tight end Jimmy Graham came one play after Panthers cornerback Antoine Cason was called for pass interference in the end zone.
The Saints drove to the Carolina 13 on the game’s opening possession before Brees’ deflected third-down pass was intercepted by defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, who returned the pick 15 yards to the Panthers 27.
New Orleans was back in Carolina territory on its next possession, but defensive end Charles Johnson’s sack resulted in Brees’ fumble. Defensive end Mario Addison recovered at the Panthers 47.
Carolina’s first two drives concluded with punts after edging into New Orleans territory. The Panthers ventured into Saints territory the next time before cornerback Corey White intercepted Newton.
NOTES: RB DeAngelo Williams, who has missed six games because of injuries this season (most recently a sprained ankle), was back in action for the Panthers. … The Panthers put LB Chase Blackburn on injured reserve. … With LB David Hawthorne on the inactive list for the Saints, LB Ramon Humber drew the starting assignment. … With the Saints placing WR Joseph Morgan on the reserve/suspended list, New Orleans played with five wide receivers. … The Saints are home for their next two games, beginning Nov. 9 against San Francisco. … The Panthers are back in action Nov. 10 in another nationally televised outing at Philadelphia.