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Surging Saints take firm control of the NFC South

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The New Orleans Saints are in the driver's seat for the NFC South title.

After stumbling out of the gate in a September malaise, Sean Payton's squad took control of the NFL's softest division with a rare 28-10 road victory over the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night.

Whereas the reeling Panthers lack an identity and have managed just one win over the past seven games, the Saints are hitting their stride at the season's midpoint.

Despite a slow start in which his decision making, pocket presence and arm strength raised eyebrows, Drew Brees is once again leading the NFL in completion percentage. His offense, already second in total yards entering the night, got another 100-yard performance from Mark Ingram and has a healthy Jimmy Graham back on track as a difference-making mismatch.

Playing through a shoulder injury, a tough-as-nails Ingram was saddled up for a career-high 30 carries just five days after shredding the Packers for 172 yards on 24 rushes.

Leaning on Ingram in an inside/outside zone attack is setting up play-action opportunities, having the twin effect of boosting Brees' efficiency and keeping a undependable defense off the field.

Armed with a new identity and an 11-game home winning streak, the Saints return to the Superdome for three consecutive games against the 49ers, Bengals and Ravens before heading to Pittsburgh in Week 13. They close out the season with one of the NFL's most agreeable December slates, hosting the Panthers and Falcons and traveling to Chicago and Tampa.

In a conference with no dominant teams entering the second half of the season, the Saints suddenly have the look of an outfit capable of doing some damage in January.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast previews every Week 9 game and recaps the Saints' one-sided TNF win over the Panthers. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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