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Late comeback sputters as Panthers fall to Saints 31-26

The Panthers season ended with a bang — or rather, a sack — on Sunday, as the New Orleans Saints beat Carolina 31-26 in Sunday’s NFC Wild Card playoff game.

The Panthers trailed the whole game, struggling to keep up with Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees. The Panthers assembled a fourth-quarter comeback that put them within a touchdown of advancing to the next round but fell short in the last seconds.

Carolina made it to the red zone in the final minute but was pushed back by an intentional grounding call on quarterback Cam Newton. A fourth down and 23 left Newton sacked and the Saints heading to the next round of the playoffs.

The Panthers offense struggled in the red zone during the first half. Kicker Graham Gano was the only player to put points on the board, leaving the team trailing 21-9 at halftime.

Although Newton didn’t finish a drive with a touchdown until the second half, he still completed 24 of 40 passes for 349 yards.

Brees didn’t stray from his regular season average, hitting his target 69 percent of the time for 376 yards. Brees threw fewer passes than Newton (33) while seeking his targets farther down the field for crucial touchdown plays.

The Saints will take on the Minnesota Vikings at 4:40 p.m. Sunday in Minneapolis. You can watch the game on FOX.