By STEVE REED, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Drew Brees did not want to head across the Atlantic Ocean three games behind the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers in the NFC South.
The veteran quarterback made sure the Saints could rest a little easier on their eight-hour flight to London for next week’s game against the Miami Dolphins.
Brees shredded the league’s top-ranked defense, throwing for 220 yards and three touchdowns as the Saints beat the previously undefeated Panthers 34-13 on Sunday for their first win of the season.
Brees led six scoring drives and threw TD passes to Michael Thomas, Brandon Coleman and ex-Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. Rookie Alvin Kamara put the game away with a 25-yard TD run with 4:42 left.
Carolina had only allowed six points in its previous two games.
“We know they’re a contender and that defense was one of the best in the league,” Brees said. “We knew we needed to be efficient today — and we were.”
Brees completed 22 of 29 passes. The Saints (1-2) piled up 149 yards rushing as part of a balanced attack and didn’t turn the ball over.
The Saints’ defense, which came in ranked 32nd in the league, intercepted Cam Newton three times and sacked him four times before he was replaced late in the fourth quarter. Many of Newton’s throws were either too hard or high as the seventh-year quarterback continued to struggle with his rhythm following offseason shoulder surgery.
“We showed that we can be a great defense,” said Saints linebacker A.J. Klein. “This is momentum for London next week. We just need to keep this thing rolling.”
Newton said he was ready to play despite not throwing much in practice last week while resting his shoulder. But he left the stadium frustrated with what he called “a lackluster performance.”
“I feel like if I play better the outcome is different,” Newton said. “The onus is on me.”
The Panthers (2-1), who were already without injured Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, lost wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first quarter to a knee injury; his leg got bent back awkwardly after being dragged down from behind. Benjamin tore his ACL in the same knee two years ago. Coach Ron Rivera offered no indication on the seriousness of the injury, saying Benjamin will be re-evaluated by doctors on Monday.
Carolina’s only real offense was essentially limited to rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, who had 101 yards receiving on nine catches.
“We can’t keep letting teams off the hook by having a long drive and getting in the red zone and coming away with three points,” Newton said.
NO DOUBTING THOMAS: Carolina had no answer early on for Thomas, who caught five passes for 50 yards and a touchdown on the Saints’ opening drive. Thomas finished with 87 yards receiving on seven catches. “We came out with more intensity and a sense of urgency,” Thomas said. “We attacked them; we did not let them attack us.”
The Saints led 17-6 when Ginn beat cornerback James Bradberry down the middle of the field for a 40-yard touchdown reception to break it open. It was the same type of big play Ginn provided for the Panthers in previous seasons. The Panthers didn’t re-sign Ginn after he became a free agent earlier this offseason. “It felt great,” Ginn said. “It meant a lot to me. My teammates were behind me.”
Brees has thrown for 1,252 yards and 12 touchdowns with three interceptions in his last four games against the Panthers. Newton entered the game with 19 career touchdown passes and seven interceptions against the Saints. This marked the first time he’s ever thrown more than one interception in a game against New Orleans.
GANO STAYS PERFECT: Panthers kicker Graham Gano entered training camp in a battle for his job, but the veteran added two more field goals on Sunday and is 8 for 8 on the season.
DICKSON A NONFACTOR: Ed Dickson replaced Olsen at tight end for the Panthers, but was a nonfactor in the passing game. Instead, most of Newton’s underneath passes went to McCaffrey. Olsen’s streak of playing in 160 straight games came to an end due to a broken foot.
NATIONAL ANTHEM: At least a dozen Saints players sat on the bench for the national anthem. None of the Panthers players on the sideline sat or kneeled in protest.
Saints: DT David Perry, added to the 53-man roster this week, left with a left leg injury in the first half.
Panthers: In addition to Benjamin, LB Thomas Davis left briefly with a rib injury, but did return.
Saints: They head across the ocean to face the Miami Dolphins in London next Sunday.
Panthers: They travel to New England next Sunday.
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