CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- After a first half that had one touchdown, six punts and two interceptions, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees raised his game and let the inconsistent Saints hold onto playoff hopes.
Carolina's David Carr only got worse, amid the weight of boos in a sinking season for the Panthers.
Brees shook off a slow start to lead the Saints on three straight touchdown drives to start the third quarter. He threw for 260 yards and three TDs and ran for another score in the Saints' 31-6 win Sunday.
Marques Colston caught seven passes for 93 yards and a TD for the Saints (5-6), who snapped a two-game losing streak and stayed in contention in the NFC South. They remained two games behind division-leading Tampa Bay ahead of next week's home game against the Buccaneers.
"It was a must win for us," said Brees, who completed 24 of 36 passes with one interception. "We talked at halftime and we knew that we had to do whatever it takes. You saw that coming out, three consecutive touchdowns."
The end zone was rumor for the Panthers (4-7), who lost their fifth straight game and dropped to 0-5 at home in another mistake-filled performance that led Carr to be benched early in the fourth quarter.
"I know everyone wants to pin it on the quarterback," Panthers coach John Fox said. "I think it's fairly evident it's not just the quarterback. Right now we're just not a very good football team ... and the buck stops here."
Carr, getting the start after 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde was a late scratch with a sore back, threw seven straight incompletions to start the game. He finished 10-of-22 for 95 yards and two interceptions. He was replaced by rookie Matt Moore after his second pick.
"We knew if we could go ahead and kind of disrupt Carr a little bit, he would make some bad decisions," Saints cornerback Jason Craft said.
Not that the Panthers had any running game, either. DeShaun Foster rushed nine times for minus-5 yards and lost a fumble.
Brees and the Saints slogged through the first half, as well, before awakening after halftime to turn a 10-6 game into a rout.
Brees threw a 1-yard TD pass to Billy Miller on their first possession. The second ended with Brees' 8-yard run on a draw.
Foster fumbled on Carolina's next play, and Brees quickly turned it into another score, ending with a 4-yard bullet in traffic to Colston to make it 31-6.
The Saints hope their dominant second half will jump-start their streaky season. Picked to win the division, they started 0-4, the last a loss to the Panthers. Then they won four straight, only to lose two in a row until getting well against the spiraling Panthers.
"It doesn't get any better than it's about to get: Tampa Bay coming to our house," Brees said.
Carolina hosts San Francisco next week after managing just 195 yards of offense. Steve Smith had six catches for 47 yards, but about all he did in the second half was signal to the fans to stop booing Carr.
Carr wasn't alone in a day of ineptitude for Carolina that will bring even more speculation about Fox's job security. The Panthers had four turnovers in their seventh straight home loss dating to last season.
Testaverde, named the starter ahead of Carr last week, was ruled out of the game 90 minutes before kickoff with a stiff back he developed Saturday.
Carr's lone win as Panthers starter came against the Saints. The loudest cheer from the small crowd came when Moore, an undrafted rookie, entered the game. He was 8-for-14 for 66 yards and an interception.
It left Saints coach Sean Payton, who worked with Fox on former Giants coach Jim Fassel's staff, feeling for Fox's plight after Carolina lost starter Jake Delhomme to a season-ending elbow injury in Week 3.
"When you have to play your backup quarterback, and in this case play a guy who didn't take a lot of reps during the week, the instability of that position is difficult," Payton said.
The fans turned on Carr and the Panthers quickly. After Carr's third-down pass was batted down near the end zone, John Kasay kicked a 29-yard field goal to cut the halftime deficit to 10-6.
But not before fans started chanted "We want Moore."
"It's not like we were purposely trying to not score points," Carr said. "They were chanting 'More' -- that they wanted more points. And we were trying to give it to them."
Reggie Bush, hampered by a bruised left shin, was held to nine carries for 32 yards. He caught three passes for 30 yards. ... The Panthers' last home win was Nov. 19 of last season, 15-0 over St. Louis. ... Panthers CB Chris Gamble (broken thumb) missed the game and was replaced by Richard Marshall.
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