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Carolina Panthers clear roadblock against New Orleans Saints

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera called the 35-27 victory over the reeling New Orleans Saints a breakthrough from a "mental block" that plagued the team in 2011.

"We finished," Rivera said after Sunday's game in a phone interview. "Last season, we had leads in the fourth quarter 10 times. We only won six. Learning how to finish was good for us."

Rivera specifically said the team's six-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to make the score 35-20 after Saints running back Mark Ingram made it a 28-20 game was the key sign that the Panthers weren't going to wither and get its first victory of the season.

Other key points cited by Rivera:

» The emergence of Brandon LaFell, who had six catches for 90 yards: "We had a young guy step up," Rivera said. "Last year, they rolled all their coverages to Steve (Smith). This week, they really couldn't because Brandon was making plays. Brandon is really stepping up as that No. 2, and he and Steve are forming a nice tandem. That's good to see."

» Jonathan Stewart rushing for 51 yards provided quarterback Cam Newton a security blanket the Panthers didn't have against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, when they rushed for just 10 yards. "Jonathan gave us that presence inside, running between the tackles and that helped put Cam at ease," Rivera said. "DeAngelo (Williams) is excellent off tackle. We had it working like we wanted to in the running game."

Rivera said the feeling of the victory had a different feel of any last season. Next up, the Giants on "Thursday Night Football" on NFL Network: "This is a good opportunity, against the defending champ, to get on track and make things happen."

For New Orleans, which fell to 0-2, there seem to be a lot of problems, especially on defense. The Saints have allowed 75 points in two games under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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