After Drew Brees broke another NFL record with his latest 400-plus-yard passing performance, he stood on a podium and moved his right hand in an ascending motion while discussing the direction of the New Orleans Saints.
"We want to be on this trajectory," Brees said as he moved his hand up and away from his body. "I feel like we are."
Brees passed for 465 yards and four touchdowns, Wil Lutzkicked a 52-yard field goal with 11 seconds left, and New Orleans pulled out a 41-38 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
With his 15th 400-yard game, Brees broke a tie with Peyton Manning for the most all time in the regular season.
Brees also led the Saints (2-3) to a second straight victory while Carolina (1-5) lost its fourth straight despite the return of quarterback Cam Newton, who missed last week's loss to Tampa Bay because of a concussion.
Newton passed for 322 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a 2-yard score and threw a 2-point conversion to Devin Funchess that tied the game at 38 with 2:58 left, completing a comeback from an early 21-0 deficit.
However, Newton was also intercepted by Sterling Moore in the back of the end zone, stalling a promising first-half drive.
Newton had little to say afterward, offering terse, vague answers to media inquiries or simply saying, "next question." His demeanor nonetheless left little doubt how displeased he was with yet another close loss.
Meanwhile, the quarterback's coaches and teammates made it clear Newton's performance was the least of their concerns.
"He made some really good decisions," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "When you score 38 points, you need to give yourself more of a chance to win."
Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly credited Carolina's offense for playing well and added, "We just have to tighten some things up defensively. We just have to make a play."
Tight end Josh Hill scored the Saints' final TD on a difficult, leaping 8-yard catch that was initially ruled incomplete.
But coach Sean Payton challenged the call and officials ruled on review that Hill had possession long enough for a completion before defensive back Zack Sanchez knocked the ball from Hill's grasp.
Brees didn't seem bothered that the Saints needed all of his prolific production to win and nearly squandered a three- TD lead.
"These are defining wins. These are wins you can draw from as the season goes along and really get a lot of strength from," Brees said. "It gives you great confidence and poise when situations arise in the future."
Coby Fleener ran for a 2-yard touchdown on his first career carry - an end-around on a fourth-and-1 play that capped New Orleans' opening drive. He also caught a 50-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter on a play that Brees said didn't quite develop as drawn up because Fleener and receiver Willie Snead ran their routes too close together, causing a convergence of players over the middle.
"All of a sudden all these bodies were in this melee and here's Coby, coming down with it and taking it the distance," Brees said. "It worked out nicely."
Lutz's winning kick came after he'd missed an earlier attempt from 53 yards. Lutz said that the moment Carolina tied it at 38, he told punter Thomas Morstead, who also holds on field goals, and long snapper Justin Drescher, "Let's go win the game."
"Like I've been saying all year - it's about the next kick," Lutz said.
Saints receiver Brandin Cooks had an 87-yard touchdown catch to highlight his career-high 173-yard outing on seven catches. Saints rookie Michael Thomas caught his third touchdown pass in as many games. Fleener had six catches for 74 yards.
Funchess caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Newton and Carolina tight end Ed Dickson hauled in a 1-yard TD that Newton tossed as he scrambled to his left.
The Saints were flagged for pass interference three times at or near the goal line, and the Panthers cashed in all three times with touchdowns. In all, New Orleans had 10 penalties for 126 yards.
Panthers penalties included Kawann Short's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for leveling Brees after his touchdown toss to Hill.
"It looked like he straight punched me in the mouth," Brees said. "That's what it felt like."
BACK IN ACTION
Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart returned after missing three games with a hamstring injury and rushed for 85 yards on 19 carries, including two short touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Hill played for the first time since injuring his ankle in Week 1.
Saints left tackle Andrus Peat, who was filling in for injured starter Terron Armstead, left the game late in the first half with an apparent left leg injury. He was replaced by veteran Tony Hills. ... Saints rookie defensive tackle David Onyemata also appeared to have a leg injury after a pileup near the New Orleans goal line in the fourth quarter and gingerly walked off the field. ... Panthers cornerback Daryl Worley was evaluated for a possible concussion.
Panthers: Carolina has a bye week to try to figure out how to reverse its sinking fortunes.
Saints: New Orleans travels to Kansas City next Sunday.