Cam Newton drove Carolina to a first down at the New Orleans 21, but after an incompletion he was pressured and called for intentional grounding.
Newton left the game for one play after being shaken up on a sack. But the Panthers stalled four times from inside the New Orleans 25, settling for four field goal attempts on those drives, one of which kicker Graham Gano surprisingly missed.
Brees gave the Saints some breathing room on the Saints' next possession, rolling right and finding Michael Thomas for a 46-yard gain to the Carolina 5. Two plays later, rookie Alvin Kamara ran 2 yards for a touchdown and a 31-19 lead with 5:08 left.
In the National Football League money exchange, touchdowns trump field goals, and that's exactly what the Saints did in taking a 21-9 halftime lead over the Panthers: three touchdowns to three field goals.
But Newton answered right back, finding running back Christian McCaffrey free over the middle for a 56-yard catch-and-run that drew Carolina within 31-26 with 4:09 left.
Eighteen seconds later, Brees responded with an explosive shot, an 80-yard strike to former Carolina receiver Ginn, who caught the ball behind cornerback James Bradberry and raced in for a 7-0 New Orleans lead.
But Newton was also sacked four times, once each by Bell, Jordan, Jonathan Freeney, and David Onyemata.
The Panthers got another chance after Adams interception, but once again the Saints' defense held.
And because the universe has a cruel sense of humor, Clay dropped a would-be third-down touchdown pass in the first quarter of Sunday's 31-26 loss in the Superdome, while two plays later, the vertical threat the Panthers let walk last spring scored an 80-yard touchdown pass that completely shifted the momentum in the Saints' favor.
Newton missed a play, the Panthers punted, and then Newton returned on the team's next possession.
Gano's 27-yard field goal cut the lead to 7-3 with 14:12 left in the second quarter, but Brees followed with a his touchdown pass to Hill and a 14-3 lead.
But the Panthers got the ball late with about 70 yards to score after New Orleans coach Sean Payton made a curious decision to go for it on fourth and 2 near midfield.