John Kasay came through in his last, best chance to guarantee the Carolina Panthers would have a playoff game on their home field, where they are unbeaten.
DeAngelo Williams rushed for 178 yards, Steve Smith had 134 yards receiving, and Kasay's 42-yard field goal with a second left lifted Carolina to a 33-31 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, locking up the NFC South title and the second seed in the conference.
"By God's grace, this one went in," Kasay said of the winning kick, which came a week after his 50-yard miss near the end of regulation cost Carolina the NFC's top seed in an overtime loss to the New York Giants.
Carolina (12-4), the only team to go 8-0 at home this season, still gets a first-round playoff bye and then a chance to extend its perfect record in Charlotte in the divisional round.
The Panthers defense intercepted Drew Brees once and sacked him twice, performing just well enough to prevent the quarterback from breaking Dan Marino's 1984 single-season NFL record of 5,084 yards passing. Brees needed 402 yards to set the mark. He finished with 386, which made him only the second player to pass for more than 5,000 yards.
Kasay hit four of five field-goal attempts Sunday, connecting from 45, 26 and 34 yards in the first half. Still, he needed the winner to redeem his miss from 41 yards in the third quarter, which allowed the Saints to turn a 30-10 deficit into a brief 31-30 lead after Brees' 13-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore with 3:11 left.
By winning in New Orleans, the Panthers became the only NFC South team to win a division game on the road this season. They did it with the same ball-control, run-heavy formula they relied on all season.