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NEW ORLEANS(AP) Drew Brees and the Saints' prolific offense never had to play from behind in their first five games.

Mastering the comeback in their last three has gotten New Orleans off to its best start in the franchise's 43-year history.

New Orleans moved to 8-0 on Sunday when Brees overcame two early turnovers to pass for 330 yards and a touchdown in a 30-20 victory over the Carolina Panthers .

''That's great. I mean, 1967 until now and we're the only (Saints) team to have done that,'' Brees said. ''That's really special. I feel like we've got a special group of guys, a special team, and certainly we're not satisfied with just being 8-0. We have what it takes to just continue to win.''

Starting with a favorable schedule during the next two weeks. The Saints play at St. Louis and Tampa Bay, who are a combined 2-14 this season, meaning New Orleans has a realistic chance to be 10-0 when New England - the only team to finish a regular season 16-0 - comes to the Louisiana Superdome the Monday night after Thanksgiving.

Before this season, the only 7-0 team New Orleans ever had was in 1991, a squad coached by Jim Mora and known for its defense.

The defense on the 2009 Saints gives up its share of yards, but has continued to make big plays at the right time.

While the Saints did not intercept a pass for the first time all season, their defense forced three turnovers on fumbles. The last produced New Orleans' seventh defensive touchdown of the season on Anthony Hargrove 's strip, recovery and 1-yard return late in the fourth quarter.

Hargrove might have been down before advancing the ball, but the play started before the two-minute warning and Carolina had no timeouts, preventing a challenge.

DeAngelo Williams rushed for 149 yards and two TDs, and Carolina gained 182 yards on the ground. But it was Williams' fumble at his 1 that led to the clinching TD.

It was Carolina's (3-5) first lost in Louisiana since 2001 and quarterback Jake Delhomme 's first loss in the Louisiana Superdome. The Panthers blew a 17-3 lead as the Saints improved to 5-0 at home this season.

''I'm encouraged with the fact that we've been able to win a few of these games and we haven't played our best football,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said. ''I don't know we're paying a lot of attention to where this (record) at the halfway point compares to past teams. There hadn't been a real rich history here in regards to successful football.''

The Saints have never been to a Super Bowl and have only been to the playoffs six times. The way they're closing out games now, there's no telling how far they could go. New Orleans is outscoring opponents 91-18 in the fourth quarter.

''The more that you win games like this, the more confidence that you gain, the more that you feel like no matter what situation that you're in, you're going to be able to win the game,'' Brees said. ''No matter what the deficit, no matter how bad things might have gone, you just feel like you're going to come back and you're going to do it.''

After failing to score a touchdown in the first half for the first time all season, the Saints needed four plays to produce Pierre Thomas ' 10-yard TD run to cut Carolina's lead to 17-13 to open the third quarter. Devery Henderson 's 63-yard gain on a short slant highlighted the drive.

Carolina responded with a 19-play drive but had to settle for John Kasay 's 25-yard field goal. Delhomme's third-down pass bounced off Williams' shoulder pads at the goal line.

''It was very disappointing. We came very close to getting the touchdown with that pass to DeAngelo,'' Delhomme said. ''That would have been huge, making it 24-13.''

Instead, New Orleans tied it at 20 on Robert Meachem 's leaping catch and run for a 54-yard score.

On their next possession, the Saints started at their 2 and drove 76 yards in 13 plays to go ahead 23-20 on John Carney 's 40-yard field goal with 4:36 left.

Will Smith , who had two sacks, stripped Delhomme on fourth down, and Hargrove recovered to end Carolina's next series. Four plays later, Saints rookie Malcolm Jenkins dove to stop Thomas Morstead 's punt from going into the end zone, setting up Hargrove's second fumble recovery in less than a minute.

Before that stretch, Hargove, suspended all of 2008 for NFL substance abuse violations, hadn't had a fumble recovery since 2005.

Carolina led 14-0 on Williams' TD runs of 66 and 7 yards, both of which came before the Saints made a first down.

The second TD came after Brees was sacked and stripped by Tyler Brayton , and Jon Beason recovered on the Saints 11. The Panthers went up 17-3 on Kasay's 32-yard field goal, set up by Chris Gamble 's interception.

NOTES: The Saints failed to score in the first quarter for the first time all season. ... Saints S Roman Harper had a career-high 12 tackles. ... Carolina LB Thomas Davis left the game with a right knee injury. ... Saints CB Jabari Greer went out with a groin pull that Payton said did not appear serious.

2009 STATS LLC STATS, Inc

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