Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 28-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night in Bank of America Stadium:

What it means: The Saints have taken control of the NFC South.

Sure, they're only 4-4. But they're a sizzling-hot 4-4 after finally winning their first road game and finally stringing together two straight victories. Carolina (3-5-1) had to hold serve on its home field to slow the Saints' momentum, and it failed in a big way.

New Orleans' defense deserves the most credit for this win, thanks to a huge first half while the offense was struggling with turnovers. Quarterback Drew Brees also played great when Carolina's defense was surprisingly stout against New Orleans' run game.

The Saints are peaking at the right time on both sides of the ball. And even though folks may want to consider the bumbling NFC South the laughingstock of the league in the first half of the season, nobody is going to want to have to play at New Orleans in the playoffs if the Saints can keep this up.

Stock watch: Who would've thought the Saints' defense would key this victory? They were fantastic in by far their best performance to date, holding Carolina to 10 points and 231 yards with two huge first-half takeaways.

Cornerback Corey White intercepted a tipped pass. Then outside linebacker Junior Galette sacked Cam Newton and forced a fumble in the shadow of Carolina's own end zone, setting up the Saints' first touchdown. Cornerback Keenan Lewis was also outstanding in coverage against receiver Kelvin Benjamin (more on him below).

Risks pay off: This is why folks should be hesitant to criticize Sean Payton and Brees for their aggressive nature. Two risks paid off: They embarked on an 85-yard touchdown drive with no timeouts in the final two minutes of the first half, and they scored on a fourth-and-1 dive by Brees in the second half.

And in a rare twist, the Saints actually came into the game planning to run the ball. But when they realized it was ineffective, they adjusted and Brees threw for 297 yards.

Game ball: Lewis continued his quietly outstanding season by helping to shut down Benjamin (two catches for 18 yards). The highlight was an end zone pass breakup when Carolina threatened to close within a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Saints' secondary has had a rough season. But thanks to Lewis, they aren't being hurt by opponents' No. 1 receiving threats (see: Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson among others).

Up next: Not only are the Saints heating up, but they're hitting a favorable stretch in their schedule. They get a 10-day break before playing three straight home games, starting with the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10.